Poll: Win 2000 still a tough sell

Microsoft Corp. customers are still scratching their heads over the complexities of Active Directory, which are keeping upgrades to Windows 2000 from reaching critical mass almost two years after the release of the operating system, according to new survey data from International Data Corp.

A poll of more than 300 corporate users of Windows NT and 2000 also shows that a small number of IT executives are considering a move to Linux in reaction to Microsoft’s Licensing 6.0 plan, which will more than double software costs for some. The survey also reveals there is no rush to adopt Windows XP and the forthcoming Windows .Net Server, which could prove a drag on Microsoft’s .Net initiative to deliver software as a set of components.

Nevertheless, 95 per cent say they plan to migrate to the next generation of Windows-based severs with 85 per cent of those planning to deploy Active Directory.

The findings are contained in a trio of IDC surveys on Win 2000, licensing and next-generation products.

The Win 2000 survey shows that 36 per cent of IT executives are delaying rollouts of Win 2000 based on the complexities of Active Directory and that only 9 per cent have completed rollouts. And those delays are not all necessarily technology related.

“In many cases, it’s internal politics or corporate negotiations,” says Al Gillen, an IDC analyst. The political issues and negotiations typically centre on who will manage corporate data and how the directory will be structured.

“Our biggest sticking point has been that we can’t get on paper [from central IT] the guarantee that we won’t lose control over our permissions and user management,” says Christopher Voss, network analyst for Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton. The school’s internal staff has been converted to Active Directory, but the student and external users still remain on NT 4.0.

Others are finding that timing is an issue because the successor to Win 2000 – Windows .Net Server – is expected to ship mid-year.

“It looks like it will be better for us to wait a few months and go to the new version of Active Directory,” says Paul Wyatt, network analyst for St. Vincent Hospital in Birmingham, Ala. The Windows .Net Server version of Active Directory contains many enhancements, such as domain renaming, group membership management, cross-forest trusts and schema delete. But for the features to be activated, every Windows domain controller server must be running the Windows .Net Server software.

Wyatt says regardless of the wait, he knows the Active Directory upgrade will take a lot of manpower. “Active Directory provides more control, and that means more complexity,” he says. The hospital’s Active Directory upgrade will be even trickier because it will include integrating Active Directory with St. Vincent’s current deployment of Novell’s eDirectory.

The result of enterprise reluctance to dive into Active Directory is that the movement to replace or upgrade older Windows systems is weak. “Three-quarters of the respondents said they have half or fewer of their servers running Windows 2000,” Gillen says.

He says that poses a challenge for Microsoft, whose .Net strategy is based on an enterprise network foundation of Active Directory and Windows .Net Server. “It is going to be an impediment to .Net at some point,” he says.

IDC’s survey also found that Microsoft’s Licensing 6.0 plan is prompting about 15 per cent of users to consider alternatives.

“Our CIO was so incensed with the licensing that he commissioned internal studies on the use of Linux,” says George Defenbaugh, manager of global IT infrastructure projects for petroleum giant Amerada Hess in Houston. Linux is not ready for the desktop and won’t displace Windows there, he says, but the company has in-house Linux expertise that will evaluate server migrations. The IDC survey revealed that many of the 15 per cent who said they would look at alternatives already had some Linux experience.

The survey also concluded that IT executives continue to be leery of new Microsoft products, a fact reinforced by the recent XP plug-and-play security vulnerability. Many aren’t interested in XP or the Windows .Net Server, slated for release mid-year, because they are still wrestling with Win 2000.

Defenbaugh, who will complete his Win 2000 desktop rollout in the fall but must submit his 2003 budget this summer, says, “I’m not stupid enough to budget for upgrades to an [operating system] I have yet to even roll out.”

Gillen says Microsoft is pushing a lot of changes, but “many [customers] are saying this is an expense we don’t need right now.”