All Aboard the Windows 2000 Train

Saturday Dec 23rd 2000 by Valle Dwight
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IT leaders agree that getting their staffs trained in Win2K is crucial. But equally important are the issues associated with the training--time and money. Some are finding ways to minimize the pain.

Recently, the IT department at Sprint, in Mansfield, Ohio, has taken on the look of a major disaster area. Yellow police tape blocks off several cubicles and signs warn visitors to keep away. But the tape is not sealing off a crime sceneit's just a sign that a Windows 2000 training session is in progress.

Rick Toomey, IT field services manager at Sprint.

Some of the 19 Sprint employees in the client services office are in the middle of an online training course on the new Windows operating system, which the company is migrating to in early summer. Training on Windows 2000 is a critical part of our migration plan, says Rick Toomey, IT field services manager at Sprint.

Windows 2000, which represents a major change in networking technology, promises to be a powerful new operating system. But getting staffed, trained, and ready to design and implement Windows 2000 is a daunting task. IT Managers face many obstacles with this transition, such as training costs of up to $6,000 per student, scheduling that allows key personnel to be away from their daily responsibilities during training, and deciding which of the various training options is best for their organization.

Managers have several choices when it comes to Win2K trainingthey can send staff to classes, bring instructors in-house, sign up for online classes, or have employees learn it in a self-paced training course using books and CD-ROMs. But no matter what the cost or inconvenience, training is not optional, according to the experts.

Training in Windows 2000 is extremely crucial, much more so than in prior versions, according to Laura DiDio, an analyst covering Windows 2000 at Giga Information Group Inc., of Cambridge, Mass. Win2K has 20 million new lines of codethis is an entirely new operating system.

Because Windows 2000 (Win2K) is such a radical change from existing systems, extensive training is imperative for IT staff and some users as well, according to the experts.

One of the biggest changes and most powerful features is Active Directory, a directory service that holds information about all resources on the network. For staffers familiar with NT 4.0, Active Directory requires a new way of thinking about network administration and security, as well as how a network is set up. Because it is so different from anything NT 4.0 administrators are familiar with, Active Directory is the most important feature for IT staff members to understand.

I think it's imperative for everyone to understand Active Directory, says Toomey. I'm a firm believer that everybody needs at least the conceptual framework. My team is a knowledgeable NT crew, and the classes are great for showing them the differences.

Some other key training issues for IT staff include security, deploying applications on the desktop, managing users, and setting up Web services. The IT staff will see massive changes with Windows 2000, according to Steve Glenn, technical instructor with Learning Tree International Inc., a Reston, Va., training company that offers several Win2K classes worldwide.

Finding Time and Money

Per-person training costs range from $1,500 to as much as $6,000 (this includes time and course materials) on the Win2K Server platform, according to DiDio. The costs will vary depending on the course taken and how many courses each administrator will need to attain MCSE or higher certification. Training end users on Windows 2000 Professional is not as critical and can be done in-house, according to DiDio.

As daunting as the costs may be, there are ways to minimize the expense without skimping on the quality of training. Sprint's Toomey knew from the outset that his staff needed thorough exposure to Win2K before migration. Yet, he says, we found a way to do it that didn't cost too much and allowed our team to stay onsite.

What To Look For in a Windows 2000 Training Class
How do you find the best class with the most experienced instructors? Here are a few suggestions, according to several experts we consulted:

  • Look for schools with proven reputations and a known name.
  • Contact authors who have written books about Win2K many are available to teach classes.
  • Get the background on the instructors.
  • Seek out Win2K newsgroups and specifically the anecdotal information, about good training options and the best training institutions.
  • Look for a good instructor-to-pupil ratio.

    Especially for Online Classes:

  • Make sure the classes are interactive, multimedia rich, and offer live instruction.
  • Classes should provide some type of hands-on simulation that provide a facsimile of a hands-on experience.
  • Going Online for Training

    The cost of sending Sprint's IT staff to a course was prohibitive for Toomey. To bring an instructor onsite or send people to a class was expensive, especially after adding in the cost of travel, meals, and hotel accommodations. To minimize the costs, Toomey opted to train the staff using KnowledgeNet.com Inc., an online course provider, based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

    Although he was skeptical of the concept of a virtual classroom at first, Toomey was impressed by KnowledgeNet's combination of live classes and self-paced courses. Toomey and his staff are taking a six-day course, offered over several weeks. Class sessions are three hours each.

    Toomey investigated the cost of sending his staff to off-site classes and the cost of bringing in an instructor, and he found that in both scenarios the budget drain would run between $1,200 to $1,900 per person for a one-week class, not counting the cost of travel, hotel, and per diem. By going with an online class, he estimates he saved $1,000 per student.

    Companies that prefer traditional classroom training will have to dig into their wallets, says Giga's DiDio. They have to bite the bullet and do it. DiDio is not convinced that online training will provide the in-depth, hands-on training required to become proficient in Win2K. The element missing, she believes, is the human exchange of ideas and experience you get in a traditional classroom. In class, you can consult with your peers and share war stories, she says.

    But for those in a pinch, online classes may be the way to go, she says, and they are also good for expert users who could use a virtual classroom as a starting point. Top technology staff may use the online classes to get a good overview, but DiDio says they'll still need at least one live instructor-led class to get hands-on experience using Win2K.

    Basic administrators might need one or two weeks of training, according to The Learning Tree's Glenn, while Active Directory architects will require up to six weeks in class. Most Learning Tree classes run an average of $800 to $1,400 per week, Glenn says, and the company offers several discount packages when companies sign up for multiple courses. Some companies will also need to add in the cost of travel, per diem, and hotels.

    IT Managers Were Asked:
    Giga Information asked its clients:

    When Do You Plan to Deploy Windows 2000 Server?


    Source: Giga Information Group, June 2000

    Time Is of the Essence

    For many companies, money isn't the main obstacle to extensive trainingit's time. So many companies aren't even fully staffed and they're overburdened as it is, according to DiDio. So how do you spring a guy to go out for a week or more to take a class?

    Jay Lane, superintendent of Communication and Information Management for the U.S. Army at Eglin Air Force Base in Fla., has a small staff of three network administrators. They also provide technical support for 100 users. He has had to struggle to get everyone trained for the conversion to Win2K.

    Lane and his staff took a one-week off-site training class provided by Learning Tree International, but they could only afford to send one person at a time. We're short-staffed as it is, so while someone's out getting trained we have to put off special projects and just limit our work to putting out fires, he says.

    Many of the education centers that hold classes also have facilities to help students stay connected with the office, according to Learning Tree's Glenn, making it easier for staff members to handle crises, even while they're offsite.

    Sprint's Toomey found that the online classes helped him stay fully staffed while getting trained. The courses his team took ran from 3 to 6 p.m., which are typically slower hours for the staff. He rotates the staff so only a portion of the team is being trained at any one time.

    KnowledgeNet provides all students with police tape, candy, and popcorn to help them focus on the class and ignore their work while class is in session. It's worked out surprisingly well, says Toomey. I told everyone to turn off their pagers and concentrate on the class.

    The online training has been well received by the staff, according to Toomey. The team is so hungry for training, they're motivated to work at it, he says.

    Taking Inventory

    Once an IT manager gets the green light to train the staff, the first step is to assess the staff's skills and talents to determine who should get trained, when they should start training, and what kind of training is necessary for each individual.

    The second a company decides on Windows 2000, it's time to start training, says Mark Rukavina, chief operating officer of at KnowledgeNet. He suggests that companies start by analyzing their top IT people and assess their skills and knowledge. A good rule of thumb is to start out by providing the mission-critical personnel with the most extensive training, then train the more remote users either in an online class or a review level instructor-led class.

    One solution is for companies to start by training key people and have them come back to train their colleagues. This way the trained staffers have a better understanding of W2K and can better assess which people need to be trained in which applications. The IT staff will still need formal training, but the training can be more efficient this way, says Giga's DiDio

    You can also have the more experienced people set up a formal session to debrief the executives and give them a reality check, DiDio says. They can tell you how tough the training was and help assess the plans for the rest of the staff.

    Another way to assess your department's needs is to call a knowledgeable instructor at the school you've chosen and find out what each class offers and who it's designed for. Toomey suggests looking for classes that offer refresher courses, especially if there is lag time between the training and the actual migration to Win2K.

    Given the expense and inconvenience of training, some companies might try to get by without it, but this would be a huge and costly mistake, according to DiDio. Untrained network administrators could incorrectly design their Active Directory, which could lead to lost data or a frozen system.

    I don't budge on this one, she says. Do it now. You either have the pain now, or you'll surely have it later. //

    Valle Dwight, based in Northampton, Mass., is a freelance writer.

    A Sampling of Training Providers

  • Digital Think Inc., San Francisco Online classes

  • ExecuTrain Corp., Alpharetta, Ga. - Classroom-based and online classes

  • Global Knowledge Network Inc., US headquarters, Cary, N.C. - Classroom-based and online classes

  • KnowledgeNet.com Inc., Scottsdale, Ariz. Online classes

  • New Horizons Computer Learning Centers Inc., headquartered in Santa Anna, Calif. Classroom-based, computer-based (CD-ROM), and online classes

  • Productivity Point Intl., headquartered in Raleigh, N.C. Classroom-based and online classes

  • SmartForce PLC, Redwood City, Calif. Online classes

  • Trainability Inc., Scottsdale, Ariz. On-site, online, and other technology-delivered training (via video, CD-ROM)

  • Virtual University Enterprises, headquartered in Eden Prairie, Minn. Classroom-based and online classes

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