Growing Up Slowly

Rolling out Windows 2000? Plan ahead and start small.

To deploy or not to deploy?" That is the question eWeek Labs posed to eWeeks Corporate Partners—and it is a question that is sure to be lingering in many IT shops regarding Windows 2000.

It has been almost a year since Windows 2000, arguably the most hyped product in recent years, was unleashed on the masses.

Now, after all the dust has settled and IT managers have had a full year to kick the tires, the general feeling we hear is that IT managers still want to implement Windows 2000, but not necessarily just yet.

The technology jump from Windows NT to Windows 2000 is too much to swallow in just 12 months, given the enormous training, network redesign, administration changes, and application reconfiguring and upgrading necessary to move to the new operating system.

Even simple issues, such as how to image systems, get more complicated when moving from NT to Windows 2000 because Windows 2000 uses a new file system format.

High reliability

Nevertheless, theres no question that Windows 2000 is the best version of Windows Microsoft Corp. has ever shipped, with the possible exception of Windows NT 3.51, which had a very clean, stable internal design.

Windows 2000 certainly is much more reliable than past versions of Windows. Some of eWeek Labs Windows 2000 systems have been up for almost five months now without a reboot (nothing special in the Unix world, and the irony of Microsofts current Windows 2000 ads loudly highlighting the poor design of the companys previous versions of Windows is not lost on anyone).

Windows 2000 has also been the platform for the company to try to push into the core of IT with Windows 2000 Datacenter Server. This is a dubious direction for IT, as there are almost no server applications (with the exception of Microsofts own server suite) that run only on Windows 2000.

When choosing a mission-critical platform, we recommend selecting server applications first, then picking the most battle-tested server platform to run these applications, which to us means an established Unix operating system, OS/400 or OS/390.

Windows 2000 is also the foundation for Microsofts overall system integration strategy, .Net, although most of .Net is vaporware and will be until .Net Common Language Runtime ships later this year. Common Language Runtime will enable applications written in the new .Net languages, such as ASP.Net and C#, to run on Windows 2000.

In general, the launch of Windows 2000 has been a mixed bag for most IT shops. More complex technologies such as Active Directory, IP Security, policy-based management, Kerberos authentication, dynamic Domain Name System, certificate services and multiuser terminal services are key reasons why Windows 2000 is attractive but are also key training and operational procedure stumbling blocks to implementation and effective use of Windows 2000.

For the most part, Active Directory, the key benefit of Windows 2000 for enterprise users, has not supplanted the old single or multimaster domain systems in the Windows NT networks of most Corporate Partners.

Many Corporate Partners were reluctant to migrate to Active Directory until they had finished simply upgrading their Windows NT servers to 2000. Just getting the same functions out of a 2000 installation after worrying about system configuration, software and hardware upgrade issues and required application compatibility updates is enough to think about without moving to a new directory model as well.

Mixed-mode mix-ups

Although it is possible to run both NT and Windows 2000 directories in a mixed-mode environment, this situation requires that technical support and help desk personnel be able to support and troubleshoot both platforms at the same time—a difficult situation that most IT managers seek to avoid.

One Corporate Partner found that when operating in a mixed-mode network, all the companys Windows 2000 servers had trouble setting their system times (the function of the new Windows Time service) because Windows NT 4.0 servers dont support the Simple Network Time Protocol used by Windows 2000.

Other complaints regarding Active Directory were related to its overbearing use of CPU and network bandwidth resources during site-to-site replications, which made directory deployment a massive problem for multinational companies with offices that have relatively primitive network connectivity.

The replication issue should be solved in the near future. We saw evidence of this in the first public beta release of Whistler, the successor to Windows 2000, due later this year.