Large companies with numerous remote nodes will benefit the most from a rapid upgrade to Windows Server 2003.

That's the consensus of industry analysts and at least one customer using the new version of Windows.

Most Windows watchers agree that, for small and midsized companies with fewer than 1,000 end users or with about 50 servers, it may be wise to wait. That's particularly true for companies that made the move to Windows 2000 within the past two years. Even so, experts say, start planning for an eventual upgrade. After all, support for Windows NT ends Dec. 31, 2004, and even Windows 2000 support won't last forever.

As Eric Stral, a partner at EK&C Partners in Portland, Ore., points out, "If you are a Microsoft shop, you will eventually be using" Windows Server 2003. And even for the smaller users, algorithm improvements and other behind-the-scenes tweaks make the operating system run better and faster than earlier Windows versions, he says.

But Jeremy Moskowitz, a group policy guru who runs the Web site GPOanswers.com, says that, "if you're a small shop, there's not a whole lot of benefit from 2003."

For larger customers, there are plenty of motivations for adopting Windows Server 2003 quickly, consultants say. The new Windows brings faster and more reliable replication from Active Directory; more choices about how to administer Active Directory; more efficient terminal services; and more robust security throughout the operating

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system.

Among many other pluses, it's now easier to administer Active Directory for companies with more than 250 branch offices, Moskowitz says: "Before, you had to do some manual trickiness to get it to work." But now you can administer group policies, including those for wireless networking; set software restrictions; and perform other tasks, like rename domains for large groups of machines. Windows Server 2003 also includes many advanced functions, like the ability to do what-if analysis. In other words, if certain parameters about group policies change, the operating system can tell you the probable results of those changes.

If nothing else, it's worth swapping out servers that are running Web sites, terminal services or Active Directory management. Bill Boswell, CTO at the Windows Consulting Group in Goodyear, Ariz., calls those areas the upgrade "no-brainers" for almost all companies, regardless of size. So even if customers don't upgrade every server at once, it's worth adopting Windows Server 2003 on these three server classes immediately, he said, and then planning for the rest to follow later.

That's pretty much been the strategy at Netgain Technology Inc., an application service provider in St. Cloud, Minn. "We haven't been upgrading most of our systems but, as we replace older servers, we're putting in Windows 2003," explains Netgain Technology CTO Tim Plas. He figures that about half his servers are now running the newest operating system. Major drivers behind the move included the need for security and performance improvements. The new version of Internet Information Services (IIS), in particular, is so much "more locked down" than the older version that Plas essentially refuses "to put up a new Web server other than on Windows 2003."

He says that he did do one major upgrade to an existing application server, which basically meant rebuilding the machine so that the "baggage" from the old operating system didn't muck up the new system. He said that upgrade was essentially "painless," and that it was more like a point upgrade than going to an entirely new system. "It wasn't like NT to 2000," he says. "All the Active Directory concepts stayed the same, and you didn't have to map different things."

Another thing to remember is that customers who signed up for Microsoft's Software Assurance program are already entitled to the upgrade, Boswell says: "If I already own it, the only question is whether I want to take the time to install it."

For other customers, Windows Server 2003 ranges in price from around $1,000 per server to more than $4,000 per server for the 32-bit enterprise edition, not including volume discounts. End-user licenses are additional; the fee for those depends on how many are being purchased.

Overall, Boswell suggests that customers "look at the upgrade like any other business investment, based on what you want to do and your business model," he says.

More information on this topic

Advice and resources: PC software upgrades

Windows Server 2003 Resource Center
 

This was first published in March 2004

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