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Should we migrate from NT4 to Windows 2000 servers or .NET servers?

I am a member of the NT support team for a national utility company. The company has a staff of 8000 that are distributed throughout the country at 160 locations. There are approximately 4,500 networked PC users running a variety of operating systems (Windows 95, Windows 98 and NT workstation).

The infrastructure also contains approximately 200 NT servers providing File and Print, Exchange Mail and infrastructure services such as DHCP, WINS and SMS site servers. All of these servers are currently running NT.

Servers are not located at all 160 locations. Approximately 80 locations are serviced by remote NT servers over slow speed links (96K). These smaller locations support between one and 10 users, with high levels of concurrency for about one hour first thing in the morning and relatively light usage for the remainder of the day.

Some services are delivered centrally -- SAP R/3 financials, intranet, Internet access and legacy VMS green-screen applications accessed via terminal emulation. The locations without servers connect to these central applications via 32K circuits.

Links between the head office and remote server locations range from 64K to 768K. The network is built using private digital microwave circuits and public frame relay circuits.

We are planning to migrate to Active Directory-enabled services. We plan to deploy Windows XP on all desktops and to implement a managed desktop strategy (lockdown) for at least 80% of users. The lockdown will be achieved via AD group policies.

We will upgrade all NT servers to AD, but the question is whether to deploy Windows 2000 or Windows .NET on these servers. The AD will be delivered so that it implements Logical Business Separation between the various business units, through the use of a single domain with multiple organizational units. The domain design will be complete by the end of 2002 and server migration should begin in early 2003 -- probably by the end of Q1.

My questions follow:

  1. Should we deploy Win2k Server or .NET Server, given our requirements and the expected deployment timescale? What are the major reasons for your recommendation?

  2. Can you clarify the support timeline for Win2k? Is there yet a definite date by which Microsoft will stop delivering fixes or security patches for Win2k Server?

  3. Are there any migration issues associated with going directly from NT to .NET that are not present in going from NT to Win2k?

  4. If Win2000 is deployed now, how big a job is a later migration to .NET? Is it trivial or are there significant "considerations" to be taken into account?

  5. If .NET is deployed now, what are the implications for Exchange? We currently run Exchange 5.5. Does .NET drive an upgrade to Exchange 2000 and is it recommended to attempt an Exchange migration in tandem with an AD rollout?

  6. What is your opinion of the dangers involved in deploying the first release of .NET for an organization like ours, which tends not to be a high-risk taker? Is it likely that the first .NET release will be very stable, since it has been delayed so long in delivery?

  7. Do you have a definitive date from Microsoft of the first .NET Service Pack (we hear it could be as late as Q3 2003)?

  8. We have a significant NT support group, members of which are experts in the support of NT Server and well trained in the support of Windows 2000. Will this group find .NET easy to support given this background?
  1. You have no business justification for going to .NET server. The services that you need should all be in Windows 2000. In addition, you will have enough on your hands just working with Windows 2000. The upgrade from Windows 2000 to .NET server is not nearly as dramatic as NT to Windows 2000. .NET uses AD and expands on it without drastic alterations. For stability and proven operability, I would first concentrate on migrating to Windows 2000 AD. You can upgrade to .NET later.

  2. They only recently stopped making Service Packs for Windows NT 4.0. Typically you can expect about a two-year grace period after .NET is formally deployed. .NET is currently in RC1 and should be released to manufacturing some time during the first quarter of 2003, I would guess.

  3. Generally, no. I have not encountered any, really. However, the drivers issue is certainly present. The Windows 2000 drivers are not guaranteed to work with Windows .NET. So, if you are not prepared to deal with drive and application compatibility issues on your own, Windows 2000 would be a better bet.

  4. I never consider an OS upgrade trivial, but comparing a NT 4.0 to Win2k versus a Win2K to .NET upgrade, the latter is going to be much easier. .NET is built on Win2k Active Directory. There are certainly feature set enhancements and some performance gains, but the overall infrastructure is the same.

  5. There are not connectors available for Exchange 5.5 to .NET -- you would be forced to an upgrade situation unless Microsoft delivers on a connector. I wouldn't hold my breath on that one. There are Exchange 5.5 AD connectors for Windows 2000. This would allow you to handle one migration at a time.

  6. For a business that is not technically oriented or driven, I wouldn't consider the move worth the risk. I work with other companies that for industry reasons are driven to ride the crest of the technology wave, but generally we have dedicated staff and departments that work diligently on testing and the resolution of problems. We also have some special relationships with MS to get help when things are tight.

  7. Nope. Generally, SP1 of the new OS is about 3 months or longer out depending on the stability of the product. But this is just a guess. I'm not sure MS has a definitive date for the release of .NET.

  8. If they understand Windows 2000 well, they will not find .NET a difficulty. The biggest issue will be finding all your tools, as MS redid the interface again. But, the AD tools and others are still there and operate much the same as Windows 2000. You will find that things like group policies and other features of Windows 2000 have been greatly expanded in scope in .NET.

Whew. I'm tired after all that -- nice questions.

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