Users take their time on Win 2000

Nearly 10 months after its release, Windows 2000 is being outsold nearly two to one by predecessor Windows NT, a strong indication that companies are taking a cautious approach to migration.

Significantly, the bulk of those Win 2000 sales are not on the server side, which means companies are not rushing into network infrastructure upgrades.

The good news for IT executives is that their discretion likely will be rewarded. Companies that have deployed Win 2000 server say it is meeting expectations for a more stable and reliable network.

An upcoming report by market research firm International Data Corp. (IDC) shows that only 34.8 per cent of shipments of NT and Win 2000 products this calendar year were Win 2000. The numbers do not include shipments of Windows 9.X products. Most of the Win 2000 shipments, however, were the desktop version of the operating system called Professional.

“Well below a quarter of the shipments were Win 2000 server,” says Al Gillen, the IDC analyst who authored the report.

He notes, however, that those numbers are slightly above the five per cent projections IDC made a year ago. “But clearly, Microsoft (Corp.)’s corporate customers can no longer turn on a dime to upgrade.” Gillen and IT executives attribute that to the complex network infrastructures companies are hesitant to overhaul and to the complexity of Active Directory vs. NT domains.

The bulk of Win 2000 server deployments won’t come until some time next year, as many IT executives have heeded advice to perform detailed planning and exhaustive testing before production deployments.

“We’ve focused on doing a lot of work upfront – it’s not just set up Active Directory and go,” says Thom Rivera, network manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation. “We’ve had a pilot and test since May and learned that the rollout is painful in that you have to get it right the first time. We’ve taken our time to identify the pitfalls.”

One of those pitfalls was collapsing multiple domains into an Active Directory domain and creating organizational units.

“We brought in consultants that had done it,” Rivera says. He will begin a rollout early next year to collapse 60 LANs and multiple domains into one Win 2000 infrastructure.

Rivera’s prudence is something others have ignored with great peril.

“We have one organization that we are helping through a second network design,” says Charlie Haynee, enterprise architecture practice manager for Interlink, a systems integrator. “We are re-implementing and migrating from the old design to the new design. The whole environment was unstable because of a lack of planning at the server level.”

He says the company underestimated the implications of directory replication, forests, sites, domains and organizational units.

The upshot for Microsoft is that sales of Win 2000 are not meeting its internal projections, according to observers. Publicly, the company says it is happy with the pace of adoptions although it won’t talk shipment numbers.

Those numbers are difficult to gauge because users can buy Win 2000 licenses and downgrade them to cover NT servers, which provides them with a “free” upgrade path to Win 2000 later on. Also Microsoft can count such licenses as Win 2000 server licenses. Microsoft did say that 12.5 million seats of Active Directory have been deployed.

“We think that is a great number, and we think we are making great progress,” says Shannen Boettcher, a Microsoft product manager.

Microsoft should gain momentum from the recent availability of Win 2000 applications, such as Exchange 2000 and SQL 2000. Also, Service Pack 2 is expected to ship in February and correct flaws in Active Directory such as user group management and partitioning.

Early reviews are good

The cautious approach by customers should pay off in a more reliable network operating system. Many users, especially those in Microsoft’s Joint Development Program (JDP) for early adopters, are reporting that Win 2000 is meeting their goals but is not without a few glitches.

“We had to improve the hardware for our domain controllers, which is where authentication occurs,” says Tim Matthews, associate director of technology for the College of Business at the University of Texas in Austin. “Our [domain controllers] were getting hammered and had time-out errors when we added Exchange 2000.”

Matthews went from Pentium III 450-MHz workstations with 256M bytes of RAM to Dell 2450 dual Pentium III 633-MHz servers with 2G bytes of RAM. He says the network is solid now and is supporting 5,000 seats of Exchange.

Matthews and others say planning, along with Microsoft’s help as part of the JDP, were keys to their success.

“We approached this operating system cautiously. With 2000, lack of planning is a disaster,” says Ed Martinez, senior systems architect for Prudential Insurance Company of America Inc.

Martinez, a JDP member, says he is 20 per cent to 25 per cent through a deployment that will take three to five years to complete. With approximately 50 servers in production, Martinez says Active Directory is stable and performing as advertised. He also says Win 2000’s reduction in reboots has helped with uptime.

But Prudential has had trouble with delegation of administrative authority, a key benefit of Win 2000 over NT. Martinez says the operating system needs better reporting for event logs and a set of reporting tools for group policy.

Just last week, Microsoft and policy management vendor FullArmor Corp. announced they are working on such a set of tools.

“Enterprises are beginning to pursue their deployments as they figure out what the operating system can do,” says Josh Canary, Win 2000 business manager for consulting firm Collective Communications Corp. “The big attractions are enterprise management, fewer reboots, better driver and exception handling, and remote management.”

But the results won’t be there for those that get sloppy.

“The people that are unhappy are those that winged the rollout,” Canary says.