|IT managers arent going
to be short of advice
Starting your evaluation
Encouraging early evaluation
Understanding NT 4.0
Timing the move
Keeping track of memory
Windows 2000 is coming and it will pay IT managers to think about
preparing for it now, rather than later. Thats the message from the industry as
Microsoft tries to get its marketing and technical machines in sync for the launch of its
largest operating system to date, which it hopes will underpin its long-time ambitions in
the enterprise space.
IT managers arent going to be short of advice
One thing is certain in the run-up to the official release of Windows 2000: IT managers
arent going to be short of advice. Systems experts, systems integrators, software
tools vendors, training specialists - you name it and theyve got a view on how to
get ready for the big launch. In the face of this avalanche of advice, IT managers might
just be tempted to take the offer from the managed service vendors, such as BT, which
promises that its managed intranet service, BT Site Exchange, will "take away the
pain of such upgrades and implementations, leaving the IT manager free to concentrate on
more strategic decisions."
If only life were really that simple! Few IT managers will be able to just shrug off the
Windows 2000 launch onto their service provider, although many will be working closely
with existing partners, which should cut down on some of the pain. Most major integrators
are offering Windows 2000 help and advice of some kind, such as the JumpStart programme
from Data General, which is selling fixed-price impact assessment of the new operating
system on existing networks for companies with limited time and technical resources to
upgrade easily. While DG is a major player with evident Windows 2000 knowledge, IT
managers should be wary of some of the smaller third-party software companies with less
expertise. What will inevitably be a learning experience for all involved should not
become a one-sided experience in which the paying customer becomes an unwitting guinea pig
and the supplier picks up valuable expertise at the customers expense (see point ten
Starting your evaluation
So where do most IT managers start in attempting to evaluate this new operating system in
the context of their own organisation? There are some general points to bear in mind and
then there are the more detailed technical aspects of Windows 2000 that will need careful
consideration, given the new features the system will include. In general terms, there
doesnt seem to be a headlong rush towards Windows 2000. "The customer feedback
is that while theyll look at the system and will evaluate it in small pilots, most
are not going to implement it particularly quickly," says Adam Jollans, IBMs
EMEA NT software marketing manager. This is not because organisations arent
interested in the potential of the operating system, but out of caution. "This is a
very big operating system and a lot of it is new code," comments Jollans.
"People want to give it time to settle down."
Jollans adds that organisations are also well aware that Windows 2000 has many new
features that they will want to use, but they need to know how to go about that in the
best way. IBM, he says, is working with customers, trying to use its own experiences of
porting some 300 software products into the Windows 2000 environment to help them see the
best way to exploit the new system to the full. It is also ensuring that it will work
alongside customers other systems, since IBMs own surveys of the biggest
companies reveal that almost 90% use three or more operating systems.
Encouraging early evaluation
Mark Tennant, Windows NT server product marketing manager at Microsoft UK, agrees that
Windows 2000 will bring big changes, but says Microsoft is working hard, particularly with
the beta 3 version released in early May, to ensure the system itself includes lots of
help for systems administrators and IT managers. "Weve eased the implementation
for people, not just those moving from NT, but also from Novell or Unix backgrounds,"
Microsoft is certainly encouraging its customers to evaluate this early version of Windows
2000. It is sending the beta 3 software out to almost 500,000 customers around the world,
as well as 140,000 developers and 100,000 channel partners. Tennant believes many IT
managers will have time to evaluate the beta 3 version. "A lot of companies are
locking down their systems for the Year 2000, so this is an ideal time to get hold of the
beta 3 software, test it with users, look at the issues and generally become familiar with
the system," he comments.
Not everyone is quite as sure as Tennant that it will be so simple to get going with
Windows 2000, even if they have had a look at the beta software. In April, Gartner analyst
Ed Thompson told a London conference that Windows 2000 wont be in a "reasonably
stable" release until at least the middle of 2000. And while Active Directory is the
single most important new feature in the new operating system (see box), there have
already been reports that not all the planned management tools to help implement Windows
2000 within a wider corporate network will be available with the initial release of the
software this autumn.
Paul Quinn, systems lecturer at consultancy and training company Aris, points out that it
will also be complex to handle the domains within Windows 2000. "A number of
companies may wish to reduce the number of NT domains they had introduced for
administrative and/or network reasons; perhaps combining users and resources from several
domains into one," he comments. "This is where the problems start. How do you
move users from one domain to another? What about computer accounts? What about resources,
printers, shared-folders and so on and their access control lists?" Quinn says that
while moving computer accounts may be relatively easy, it wont be so simple to move
a user from one domain to another. "You may choose to move user accounts from several
NT 4.0 domains into a single NT 4.0 domain, using the addusers.exe resource kit utility;
bearing in mind that you can only contain about 40,000 users in a single NT domain,"
says Quinn. "Alternatives include the Movetree utility in the Windows 2000 resource
kit to move users from one Windows 2000 domain to another, or scripting your transfer via
the Active Directory Scripting Interface (ADSI) and editing tools. Whatever method you
choose its certainly not a simple drag-n-drop operation."
Understanding NT 4.0
Getting a grip on the existing Windows NT Version 4 domain structure is certainly a good
first step towards Windows 2000, recommends Steve Dawes, technical director at corporate
reseller Ultima Business Systems. "Many people might be inclined to think this
doesnt matter, since they will be moving to Windows 2000, but dont countenance
this attitude," counsels Dawes. "There will be good tools to help the migration
from NT4.0 to Windows 2000, but they will assume that the underlying domain structure is
Most of the pundits agree that it is a good idea to get IT staff trained in the basic
skills, including a good knowledge of the TCP/IP protocol, before embarking on any
evaluation of Windows 2000. Its also a good idea to enhance existing skillsets among
IT staff, Dawes points out, rather than starting from scratch. Sending someone already
familiar with SMS V2 on a Windows 2000 course is a good idea, because of the similarities
between that and Microsoft Management Console, a key feature in the new operating system.
Similarly, a member of staff with knowledge of Microsoft Exchange is likely to pick up the
way Active Directory works more quickly than those without such basic grounding.
Timing the move
Advice is mixed on when might be the best time to consider a move to Windows 2000.
Clearly, no one is going to shift their full operational systems yet to an operating
system thats still having its bugs ironed out. But while analysts like Gartner
remain cautious, others in the market believe such caution could in fact catch IT managers
out. "This time next year, vendors will be shipping Windows 2000 applications and
someone from the business is going to walk in and say lets run these things,"
says Olivier Thierry, VP of marketing at software tools vendor Mission Critical.
"Then the IT guys will get caught and will end up having to do things in a
rush." Thierry says that most NT users hes spoken to about moving to Windows
2000 are planning to make the move in the next six months to a year. "Having spoken
to us, we find they realise they can move that up by about four or five months," he
comments. "They can do a lot of the initial cleaning up and design right now."
The first steps towards migrating are exactly what common sense would dictate: see what is
already out there; tidy it up, especially the domain structure; and plan for the Active
Directory hierarchy. All these things, claims Thierry, can be done now, in the NT4
environment, putting companies well ahead when Windows 2000 does come along. This is
creating opportunities for several specialist suppliers, such as those offering inventory
and impact assessment services. NetCensus, from one such company, Tally Systems, for
instance, keeps track of PC software, making it easy when it comes to upgrades, according
to David Miller, computer consultant at the UK Patent Office, which uses NetCensus.
"We know exactly how many copies we need to buy and the hardware details if we need
to upgrade the PCs with more memory," comments Miller.
Keeping track of memory
Keeping track of memory is certainly going to be important when it comes to implementing
Windows 2000. Although there are four versions of the new operating system, with different
systems requirements, it is clear that more memory is going to be needed to cope with this
major new release. Microsoft recommends a minimum of 64MB, which means more sales for
memory companies like Samsung Semiconductor. "Machines shipping now will have an
average of 64MB anyway, but obviously theres a large installed base with less than
that," comments Adrian Elms, Samsung Semiconductors senior sales manager. With
an extra 32MB of memory costing about £30 at the moment, the cost of more memory could
add up, and Elms also warns that while memory upgrades are straightforward, IT managers
should ensure they get compatible products and arent wooed by some of the cheap and
cheerful memory brigade into getting substandard products.
Theres a lot to think about in considering a move to Windows 2000, says Andrew
McConnell, a senior consultant at systems integrator Morse, "Upgrading to Windows
2000 will require considerable forethought and preparation, but the benefits in terms of
improved manageability, cost of ownership, resilience and scalability will make it
worthwhile," he says. "And a properly structured evaluation and pilot will pay
big dividends when it comes to a full scale deployment."
1. Work out a comprehensive current configuration management approach
2. Identify current desktop/laptop/server configurations
3. Build a reliable network and systems architecture
4. Look at mixture of current desktop operating systems and network
operating systems and determine migration strategy, because the choices available will
change, depending on whether, for instance you already have Windows 95, 98 or NT as the
existing major base.
5.Get a proper backup approach in place NOW. Look at a
ruthless policy of identifying directory and file tree structure from local data or build
policies to ensure users are encouraged to hold key data on server resource, because this
helps reduce the risk of losing key data during migration).
6. Identify pilot/beta group and jump in feet first. The only safe bet is
to suck it and see!
7. Set realistic user expectations and encourage early buy-in
8. Get a sponsor from the business
9. Model risks and therefore isolate them early
10. Identify your technology partner early and get them to buy in skills,
rather than learn at your expense
11. Upgrade interim users, thus removing or reducing unknown and post
install support problems and pre-install installation problems.
12. Separate changes. For instance, carry out hardware upgrades now so
only software changes have to be carried out when migrating.
13. Carry out work on legacy/heritage applications now to reduce risks of
Source: Empower Dynamics
The biggest single change with Windows 2000 will be the move from a flat database
structure to Active Directory, Microsofts hierarchical database, to store
information on users, computers, printers and other network resources. Active Directory
replaces the flat Security Accounts Manager (SAM) database used in Windows NT. The
hierarchical approach within Active Directory is based on the concept of the domain, which
is used in Windows NT. Domains can be linked together to form trees and trees can be
combined into forests. A Windows 2000 domain can contain many more objects than under NT
and it can be divided up using Organisational Units (OUs), which can be used to reflect a
companys administrative structure.
At the same time, domains can be divided on a geographic basis, to control network traffic
more efficiently. The ability to use both the OU and geographic basis for domains is a
major advantage, but also means network administrators have to consider several aspects of
domain structure and management. It is by no means straightforward to transfer user
accounts from one domain to another, which is something administrators may wish to do in
tidying up their domain structures.
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