No Rush to Open Windows 2000

Tuesday Dec 12th 2000 by Joe Mullich
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Microsofts new OS has what it takes to open corporate doors, but so far most companies are only willing to look through the keyhole.

Most companies will let the year 2000 come to a close without inviting the much-ballyhooed Windows 2000 operating system through their corporate doors. Virtually everyone praises the powerful new OS, but the cost, complexity of migration, and lack of immediate need are causing most companies to say Windows 2000 can wait until well into 2001.

Aaron Venson, IT manager for Current Analysis Inc., a business intelligence firm in Sterling, Va., thinks his company will migrate to the Windows 2000 server sometime in the second quarter of 2001. But Venson sees no particular rush to forge a deadline. "Our plan is to have our IT staff take some extended Windows 2000 classes that range from two to four months," he says. "After that, we'll sit down with a consulting firm and go over the features of the Windows 2000 server."

By the end of 2000, a mere 25% of Windows NT shops will have upgraded their servers to the new operating system, according to surveys by The Aberdeen Group, a Boston-based consulting firm. Even more surprising to many analysts is that only a slightly higher percentage of firms will move to Windows 2000 Professional, the desktop version of the operating system, before the end of the year. Six months ago, the Aberdeen Group and other analysts were calling Windows 2000 Professional a no-brainer migration for most companies, considering it had the same GUI and offered vastly superior performance than the previous desktop version.

"Windows 2000 stalled badly in the middle of the year and hit a wall because companies hadn't budgeted for as much hardware as Windows 2000 needed, and they couldn't justify it," says Rob Enderle, vice president of desktop and mobile technology for Giga Information Group in Cambridge, Mass. "There was also a lot of confusing information about whether the product was ready."

The irony is, despite the initial stumbling blocks, many early adopters have nothing but praise for Windows 2000. "We have not had one crash since we installed it in February [2000]," says James Flavin, vice president in charge of engineering for Allegrix Inc., an infrastructure application service provider (ASP) in Santa Clara, Calif.

Bumps on the Road to Adoption

What's holding Windows 2000 back? Analysts say the timing of the February 2000 release could not have been worse, coming on the heels of the Y2K bug scare. Companies were wary from the outset, not believing the product would ship on time or be bug-free.

Apart from all that, companies now realize a Windows 2000 migration is a complex and expensive process that has ramifications for everything from desktop hardware and bandwidth requirements to security policies and service-level agreements.

"A lot of things have to be done in advance of a Windows 2000 server or desktop migration, such as checking security capabilities and rechecking site licenses," says Laura DiDio, a director with The Aberdeen Group. "This is not like upgrading a single LAN five years ago. With all the enterprise-class performance offered by Windows 2000, a firm has to make sure its environment is ready first."

At a Glance: Allegrix Inc.
The company: Allegrix is an infrastructure application service provider in Santa Clara, Calif., with 30 employees. The firm works with ISVs and other channel providers to convert their programs into an ASP offering, and then hosts and maintains those Web-enabled applications on behalf of each provider.

The problem: Allegrix needed a way to quickly Web-enable, host, and manage ISVs' and solution providers' apps in an ASP mode, so that ISVs and solution providers could manage their own clients.

The solution: The integration of Windows 2000 Server products, including Active Directory, Windows Terminal services, Microsoft SQL, and Active Server pages, provides the ability to more easily host applications and delegate administrative responsibilities.

IT infrastructure: Allegrix uses a variety of "application broker" technologies for network computing. The network features OC48, OC12, OC3, and DS3 links, as well as Cisco 12000 series gigabit switch router technology. The key is using Windows 2000 Servers and Active Directory management.

The result: Instant Web-enablement of client/server Windows NT and 2000 apps, which can be accessed from any browser-based device without an application re-write. This reduces the time and expense involved in delivering applications. It allows Allegrix to manage applications for its ASP clients, as well as its clients' clients, while remaining invisible to everyone involved.

Next, throw a batch of turf politics into the mix; since Windows 2000 promotes centralized management, departments and subsidiaries are asked to relinquish control of their data. Then toss in some shots from Microsoft competitors like Oracle Corp., many of which have been slow to support Windows 2000. The result is most companies see no reason to begin their Windows 2000 migration before the middle of the 2001.

"Twenty-four percent of the companies in the United States currently have no plans at all to migrate to Windows 2000," DiDio says. "In Europe, the numbers are even higher--33% to 34%." Like most analysts, DiDio believes Windows 2000 will eventually be embraced by most companies; it will just take longer than many people believed.

Microsoft, which has never provided any public projections for Windows 2000 adoption, claims to be pleased with the adoption rate of the technology. And analysts don't question that most companies will eventually migrate to Windows 2000 servers because of the technology's two key benefits: The server offers greater stability, and the OS simplifies network and e-business management by replacing scattered directories for individual applications and LANs with a central store called Active Directory.

The key question many companies are facing now, according to Giga Group's Enderle, is whether to move to Windows 2000 on the desktop or the server first. Of the firms that have waited on the desktop until this point, many will probably delay another six to nine months. By then, they expect to adopt the next version of Windows 2000, code-named Whistler, as well as some important hardware advances, such as the Pentium 4 chip. Enderle says the only reason to go with a Windows 2000 server upgrade now is to fix a problem. "If you're up and stable, you might want to work on something else," he says.

To Migrate or Not To Migrate

Certainly, many early adopters have expressed delight with Windows 2000. Allegrix began running Windows 2000 following just two months of beta testing. The hosting firm operates 60 application servers and 20 database servers on the new operating system. "I was surprised with the completeness and the stability of the operating system right from the start," Flavin says. "I thought we'd have to wait for the first service pack for reliability."

So far, Flavin has found only one application that didn't plug and play with Windows 2000. This meant waiting for the next release of the application, which he declined to name, when it would become Windows 2000 compatible.

James Flavin, VP in charge of engineering for Allegrix Inc.

Daryl Ford, manager of information technology for VentureCom, a provider of software and services for developers of Win32-based Intelligent Connected Equipment in Cambridge, Mass., installed Windows 2000 on 20 servers and 80 corporate desktops. He, too, has nothing but praise for the new operating system. I was impressed by the ease of the upgrade, Ford says.

At the same time, most companies don't see enough of an immediate payoff to migrate to the operating system now. Like many of the smaller early adopter firms, Ford can't pinpoint a cost-benefit ratio to the migration.

Current Analysis' Venson has been dissuaded from migrating to Windows 2000 servers by the large number of security bulletins he's seen related to Windows 2000 and the Internet Explorer 5.5 that is bundled with it. "Our company is very technical and we want to make sure everything is stable before we go with it," Venson says. (For a list of security bulletins and downloadable patches, go to the Microsoft Security Bulletin Web site.)

Like many large firms, Emerson Electric Co., a global manufacturer of engines and other products, is now developing a taskforce to look at Windows 2000 migration. The St. Louis-based firm has 60 divisions and 128,000 employees. For now, each individual Emerson division can handle Windows 2000 migration on its own.

Phil Stock, network administrator for Emerson Ventilation Products in Lenexa, Kan., has delayed migration to Windows 2000 Professional until the next release of a key application: Customer Center, a Web-based order-entry and customer-tracking system from Fourth Shift Corp. in Minneapolis. "The current release can't run on Windows 2000," he says.

Lessons Learned about Windows 2000 Migration
  • A Windows 2000 migration is complex and expensive, moreso than most companies imagine.

  • The migration can affect everything from bandwidth needs to security policies.

  • The cost of new hardware is making Windows 2000 on the desktop less of a no-brainer in the short term.

  • Whether to migrate servers or desktops first is a case-by-case decision.

  • It's important to know if your key applications support Windows 2000 yet.

  • Most firms that have migrated are quite pleased with Windows 2000.
  • Stock has no plans now to migrate his nine Windows NT 4.0 servers to Windows 2000. Stock says he would probably only make that move if he received a corporate directive, because the Emerson Electric taskforce wants to leverage Active Directory to share information that is now kept in the individual divisions. However, Stock doesn't see a move to Windows 2000 servers occurring in the next 12 to 18 months.

    Challenges: Compatibility, Support, and Integration Issues

    Companies that have contemplated the move are experiencing a number of political and technological obstacles, analysts say. For instance, Oracle databases supported UNIX and Linux months ahead of Windows 2000. "The Oracle 11A ERP application still doesn't support Windows 2000, but it ran on UNIX months ago," Aberdeen's DiDio says. "The Windows 2000 release is supposedly due out in December 2000."

    As late as September 2000--more than seven months after the release of Windows 2000--DiDio received a frantic call from a customer whose migration plans were stalled because he couldn't get a straight answer from either Microsoft or Oracle about this support problem. "Some companies are feeling like a base runner trapped between first and second base," DiDio says.

    Compatibility problems with applications made for earlier versions of Windows are another challenge. Giga Group's Enderle says these snags were often as small as moving key directories from one place to another. Such compatibility issues are expected to be fixed in the next iteration of Windows 2000, which is due out in about a year.

    DiDio notes that for complex enterprise server migrations, companies are finding integrating UNIX DNS and Windows 2000 DNS is very challenging. "Microsoft doesn't have a really good story to tell customers when it comes to implementing, designing, and architecting multiple Active Directory forests," DiDio says. "And Microsoft won't have [an answer] until Whistler ships."

    All in all, DiDio says Windows 2000 reflects a new way firms are looking at technology. "It used to be technology was measured in Internet years and everything had to be done quickly," she says. "But Windows 2000 is the bellwether product that proves that wrong. Windows 2000 requires too much training, money, and resources to be done quickly, and customers are pushing back." //

    Joe Mullich is a freelance writer in Glendale, Calif. He can be reached at joemullich@aol.com.


    New Tests Stress Real-World Skills

    Requirements for Windows 2000 certification are more stringent than those of past tests. Microsoft Corp. has made several significant changes to the Microsoft Certified Engineer (MCSE) credential for Windows 2000 to emphasize the need for more real-world experience. This will help assure 100% compatibility with existing applications. But, in the short term, plenty of IT people are finding it hard to earn certification.

    "Windows 2000 exams feature questions based on complex scenarios, such as case studies, that stress real skills and play down memorization."

    To pass the exam, Windows MCSE candidates are expected to have at least a year's experience implementing and administering a network operating system. You could pass the NT 4.0 exam by just reading, one candidate said in an online forum about Microsoft testing. Windows 2000 is a lot tougher.

    The idea behind the more sophisticated exams is for MCSE technicians to have real-world experience rather than mere book learning. Many of the Windows 2000 exams feature questions based on complex scenarios, such as case studies, that stress real skills and play down memorization. About half of the exam's core content require users to have trouble-shooting skills honed by real-world experience.

    On Internet forums, Windows NT 4.0 administrators are expressing "shock and consternation" over the large numbers of them who are flunking the Windows 2000 certification, says Laura DiDio, a director with The Aberdeen Group. According to Didio, some 15% of the NT 4.0 administrators who have taken the accelerated Windows 2000 exam are failing certification because the test is more difficult and because they didn't appreciate the depth of knowledge they'd need about the new operating system. Says Didio: "That is a very high number of failures among some pretty good NT 4.0 administrators who have been playing with Windows 2000 in a test network."
    --Joe Mullich

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