Windows 2000 may not hit the streets until February 17, but there has already been a
stampede for training based on beta releases of the product. Although demand has certainly
been fuelled by Microsofts £3.1 million UK promotional programme, which includes
course subsidies, the major factor governing early take up has been a widespread
anticipation that Windows 2000 will have a huge impact on the way corporate applications
are deployed, especially at the workgroup and desktop level. "I think Windows 2000
will redefine how companies will implement their IT systems," said Mark Parris, a
self employed contractor who was among the first to take a Windows 2000 course.
"Therefore I wanted to take the course early on so that I was prepared for the market
when the product did launch."
Parris is not alone. It seems that many more self employed programmers and analysts are
dipping into their own pockets and time to take Windows 2000 courses than was the case for
NT 4.0. At ICLs training division, Knowledge Pool, 75% of early takers have been
contractors, while the figure was closer to 50% for NT 4. It is true that this ratio may
change, as corporates are just sending a few key people on Windows 2000 courses to get a
foot in the water with the bulk of their IT staff having to wait until full availability
of the product. It is clear, though, that many contractors faced with increased
competition as Y2K conversion projects run down are keen to seize the new opportunities
presented by Windows 2000.
There is certainly no doubt that Windows 2000 will create plenty of jobs for both
contractors and permanent staff who really can show they have the necessary implementation
skills. The fact is that with its incorporation of and dependence on the new Active
Directory, Windows 2000 introduces a higher level of complexity, as Kevin Addington,
technical business development manager of Azlans training division, points out:
"While there is almost universal agreement that directory structures are positive and
a massive step forward, it means that Windows 2000 implementation will no longer be the
job of small departments, but will have to take place at an enterprise-wide level."
This, said Addington, means that Windows 2000 implementation is no longer just a technical
issue, but enters the realm of corporate and inter-departmental politics. Ultimately the
objective of a distributed directory is to reduce cost of IT ownership by simplifying
software distribution, configuration management and other administrative tasks, and
establishing a sound overall IT infrastructure. But in the short term the roll out and
configuration of the directory itself will bring considerable pain for many enterprises,
especially those without much existing experience of the issue.
Fortunately, the challenge posed by Active Directory is reflected in the Windows 2000
course structure, which is considerably different from NT 4. "Were now looking
at much more solutions oriented courses than just teaching how to use the operating
system," said Microsofts UK skills manager Clare Curtis. "With Windows
2000 implementation more likely to be a larger scale migration, there is a need to
understand how to prepare properly at the design stage."
Active Directory provides the cornerstone for this, and therefore features very
prominently in the courses. It is worth remembering though that Microsoft is not the first
to introduce a distributed directory, and is merely following in the footsteps of Novell,
which went this way in 1993 with its NetWare Directory Service (NDS) launched with NetWare
4.0. Active Directory has some features that NDS does not, notably better integration with
other Microsoft technologies, such as COM, but essentially the two are very similar. Both
are based on the X.500 distributed directory standard, with the differences lying in
usability, and level of integration with other relevant standards or products.
A helping hand
What this does mean is that implementing distributed directories is not alien to many
enterprises, and Microsoft has learnt from some of the pain Novell and its users have gone
through. Indeed the need to gear up customers, IT practitioners and partners lies behind
Microsofts decision to subsidise training courses for the first time. However the
subsidies only apply to two types of course, and are only relevant for people already well
versed in NT 4 who want to upgrade their skills. The principle course, eligible for a
subsidy of £500, is called "Upgrading Support Skills and Designing a Directory
Services Infrastructure for Windows 2000", or simply, Microsoft course no 1579. This
five day course is actually a combination of two other courses, one on support skills and
the other directory services, omitting some of the deeper detail (see box). It is
interesting to note that Parris decided to forego the subsidy and pay for both courses
separately in order to maximise his knowledge. He felt this would prepare him well for the
Windows 2000 exams when they become available after February 17.
However, Microsoft anticipates that the combined course 1579 should give existing holders
of MCSEs (Microsoft Certified System Engineer), who gained accreditation via NT 4,
training to pass the relevant exams to update their MCSE to Windows 2000 status. One exam
will cover Windows 2000 Professional, the desktop version, and then there is a group of
exams for Windows 2000 Server including all the complex directory services and security
features. Contractors paying for their own courses will be particularly interested to note
that there are wide variations in prices for the five-day 1579 course covered by the £500
subsidy which, incidentally, they can obtain in the form of an electronic voucher from
Microsofts Web site (go to www.microsoft.com/UK/train_cert/win2ksub).
Generally, prices for course 1579 are in the range £1,200 to £1,600, less £500 with the
subsidy, but can be lower. Some examples include Azlan Training, weighing in at £1,495,
Knowledge Pool at a similar amount, Ilion Faculty at £1,395, and TechConnect
substantially lower at £1,000. With the subsidy taken into account, the last is half the
price of the first two. It is small wonder therefore that Tech Connect reports a
particularly strong uptake of its courses from contractors. Price is not everything, but
it may be that the likes of Tech Connect which specialise in training are more competitive
than others that provide it as part of a larger IT service, mostly for corporate clients.
The overall message is that it pays to shop around, with the subsidy amplifying price
differentials. However, it is also worth noting that these prices are not always fixed,
and that substantial volume discounts are usually available to enterprises making block
bookings for their IT staff. Microsoft is also subsidising a brace of one-day courses, one
on W2K Professional, the other on Server. In this case the prices are fixed, and both
courses have to be taken, at £99 the two. Essentially this is two for the price of one,
and these courses are designed more for incorporation in broad based IT courses rather
than for existing MCSEs specifically wanting to update their skills. For this reason,
Microsoft is distributing the two one-day courses largely through its Authorised Academic
Training Partners (AATPs), whereas the five-day course is being delivered directly through
CTECs (Certified Training and Education Centres). CTECs are usually dedicated to specific
vendor sponsored courses, although some cover multiple vendors while others are dedicated
just to one. Azlan, for example, provides Novell, Cisco and Microsoft courses and for this
reason is a popular choice for enterprises requiring all of these skills, being a one stop
The situation is complicated somewhat by the existence of courses not covered by the
subsidy, since some training companies are discounting those to make them competitive with
the subsidised 1579. Some of these discounts are for volumes, but there are vendors
offering special rates to contractors attempting to cash in on the early training boom
there. In some cases these special discounts are not advertised, so it is often worth
Of course the whole world is not migrating to Windows 2000 at a stroke, and some large
enterprises have only just got round to rolling out NT 4. There will, therefore, be
continuing demand for NT 4 courses, and Microsoft has been criticised for deciding to
phase these out by the end of next year (see the following article by Phil Edwards).
During this next year though training companies face a challenging time running both NT 4
and Windows 2000 courses in parallel and coping with the change of focus. "It has
been quite a challenge for us to accommodate Windows 2000 courses as well as keeping
people happy who still want to do NT 4.0," said Julie Hunter, education manager of
training Ilion Faculty.
The change in structure of the courses appears to have been well received by early pupils,
but according to Microsofts Curtis, the option of online training has proved less
popular. "Obviously the skills gap between NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 is quite large and
people who have had no exposure prefer to be in the classroom," said Curtis.
However, online tuition is likely to prove useful for revision purposes when students who
have taken the course some time ago prepare for the exams. Even then though the best form
of revision will be hands-on experience in a real job which is what many of the early
takers are hoping for.
Although the curriculum has now been defined, there is still some uncertainty over the
exact structure of the exams when they come out in February. This is a controversial point
because the NT 4 exams attracted some criticism for being too easy to pass, and Microsoft
has come under pressure to make the tests harder and reduce the pass rate this time round.
"The balls in Microsofts court," said Martin Jones, marketing
director of Tech Connect, a Microsoft CTEC. To some extent the exams are bound to be
tougher because Windows 2000 is a more complex product with considerably more in the
curriculum, Jones added. And the time taken to qualify as an MCSE from scratch will be
substantially longer. Even so it is unlikely that the MCSE will reach the status enjoyed
by Ciscos CCIE certification, with which it is sometimes compared. CCIEs still enjoy
widespread respect largely because the course is comprehensive, exams quite hard, and the
pass rate low. Unfortunately Microsoft is caught in a cleft stick, because if it makes the
exams too hard, not enough MCSEs will be produced to satisfy the huge demand. At the same
time the skills shortage cannot be cured just by issuing certificates.
Ciscos European academy training manager, Bob Lewis, refused to comment on the
merits of Microsofts Windows 2000 training programme, but admitted that there was a
debate going on within the industry. The general view is that Microsoft has raised its
game considerably though, and at least as far as Windows 2000 training is concerned, has
got things right this time, even if the move to phase out NT 4 courses so quickly is
Windows 2000 courses in a nutshell
Microsoft has developed a range of courses covering various aspects of Windows 2000, and
of these only one, apart from a pair of one-day courses (see main article) attracts the
£500 subsidy, which is available until 29th February 2000. This is the five-day course
1579, which is an amalgam of two other courses comprising the main components of each.
These are 1560, Upgrading Support Skills from Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 to Windows
2000, and 1561, Designing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Directory Services Infrastructure. The
combined course is aimed at existing Windows NT Professionals in the hope of getting them
up to speed with Windows 2000 in time for its release, so there is no subsidy for people
starting out on the Windows ladder. Course 1579 should provide existing MCSEs with the
required knowledge to pass the exams to maintain their MCSE status at the Windows 2000
There is also a family of Windows 2000 courses not covered by the subsidy which gives a
leg up to less experienced people. Briefly these are:
1556 - Administering Windows 2000, a three-day course covering basic
tasks such as setting up and managing user accounts and resources.
1557 - Installing and Configuring Windows 2000, a five-day course
following on from 1556 which has to be taken first, covering installation of both Windows
2000 Server and Professional, with more on the Active Directory.
1558 - Advanced Administration for Microsoft 2000. This three-day course
in turn follows on from 1557, delving more deeply into Active Directory and focusing on
administration of large networks.
1560 and 1561 are the two we mentioned, aimed at
existing professionals, so they sit outside the ascending structure of 1556
There are also two parallel sequels to 1560, which can be taken independently of each
other or as a pair. The first is 1562, Designing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Networking
Services Infrastructure, a four-day course covering design, installation, and support of
Windows 2000 Networking Services Infrastructure. The other is 1563, Designing a Change and
Configuration Management Infrastructure for Windows 2000 Professional, covering the remote
installation and backup tasks needed to roll out the operating system to multiple