Windows 2000 could have an interesting effect on enterprise networks

The wags who said the impact of Year 2000 would not be felt until some time after Jan. 1, 2000 may have been right. For network managers, the most significant event of this year may be 2000-related after all. Plumbing the depths of Windows 2000, to be formally introduced next week, will likely keep net managers busy for most of the year.

Win 2000 is the most significant revamp ever made to the Microsoft Windows operating system — and rumoured to be one of the largest software projects of all time. The undertaking lasted three years and cost Microsoft Corp. more than US$1 billion to develop. While no cost breakdown is available, it is apparent from the sheer volume of enhancements that a significant portion of the effort went into communications and network functions.

What was changed? As a good friend of mine likes to say: “only everything.” Developers had a field day piling on features, integrating functions introduced at the service-pack level in previous Win32 releases and tweaking the glorious NT registry.

Net managers had better be prepared for some “different” network behaviour when they bring up Win 2000 clients and servers. Nowhere have I seen a Microsoft document that addresses this issue. My guess is Microsoft believes Win 2000 is so much better that nobody is really concerned about the specifics. I am — especially when the changes are so dramatic.

No longer, for example, will a failed default gateway ruin your day. TCP/IP 2000 implements dead-gateway detection and recovery that will redirect your IP traffic to a backup gateway. What is the impact on applications? Microsoft is mum on the topic.

Win 2000 does a lot more than just extend TCP. Support for the lowly network adapter is improved dramatically. With the implementation of the Network Driver Interface Specification 5.0 standard, Win 2000 will offer power management, plug-and-play and — most interesting for gigabit Ethernet users — task offload. This feature allows the processor on capable network interface cards (NIC) to handle TCP checksum calculation and IP Security tasks that would otherwise burden the PC’s CPU. How much will they help, and which NICs support this function? Net professionals need to know.

Win 2000 implements quality of service (QoS) with a vengeance. Resource Reservation Protocol, Differentiated-Services, Signalling, policy-based QoS — there’s not a QoS acronym in existence that hasn’t found its way into this release. QoS is inherently complex. Facing a choice between different ways of implementing QoS makes things more difficult.

And when you have the strength to go on, you can begin to consider all the changes to IP Multicast, virtual private networking and IP telephony that Microsoft has cooked up for you.

With such massive change, network professionals are well-advised to have a well-thought-out Win 2000 strategy.

Tolly is president of The Tolly Group, a strategic consulting and independent testing firm in Manasquan, N.J. He can be reached at