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Top SWM user migration headaches, part 1

In this two-part story, IT pros describe their migration headaches and how they survived them.

IT managers want to get off the migration merry-go-round, according to a recent SearchWindowsManageability survey. Stop the constant barrage of new versions of Microsoft Office, said one exhausted IT pro. Stop the insanity of migrations that wipe out every customized application on a desktop, said another. Stop making software that's so hard to migrate, said many.

While they wish for an end to migration headaches, most IT managers realize that only short-term relief is possible. In this two-part story, IT pros describe their migration headaches -- from moving user mailboxes to DNS issues -- and how they survived them. Part two details how end-user training can make a migration smooth and how old hardware can hamper even the most effective software upgrade.

Moving e-mail mailboxes
Bob Smith found his biggest migraine-causing experience when he migrated his company, Morpheus, Inc., from Windows NT to Windows 2000/Active Directory. While moving user accounts to Active Directory was fine, he said, moving Exchange 5.5 mailboxes to Exchange 2000 was difficult. Buying a third-party management tool was out of the question, though, Smith said. He could not justify the cost for a one-time job. "I now know what some girls go through buying prom dresses," he joked.

With some careful planning, Smith did pull through. He said he planned more than usual for a migration, however.

User profiles and application upgrades
Kenny Rivera doesn't mind if his users customize their computers to how they like them. Unfortunately, "when you migrate to a new OS, you have to start from scratch," he said. People lose their Cookies and Favorites. They also lose their saved passwords at their favorite Web sites. Added to the blow, though, users have forgotten their passwords because they assumed they would be saved, said Rivera. Overall, it's a time consuming process to get all users back up to speed and producing, he concluded.

Rivera cited a Microsoft Outlook upgrade as an example of this problem. The administrator who migrates a user to a newer version of Outlook often doesn't know exactly how the user customized the previous version, or if there was any customization at all. The result is that the users' customizations don't always get carried over, said Rivera. Usually, users will call a week later when they can't find something. "Then it takes four to eight hours to get the PC back to its original state," said Rivera. In the end, that costs more money.

Active Directory DNS issues for mixed Unix/Windows shops:
Many administrators are very comfortable with Unix DNS, said Senior Desktop Technician David Larsen of Trilegiant, Corp. Active Directory, however, runs on Microsoft DNS. While MS DNS can interoperate with Unix DNS, problems occur in mixed Unix/Windows shops because "administration communities don't want to move to Microsoft DNS, which has had a troubled history," said Larsen.

"The problem is that Unix DNS administrators don't understand interactions with Windows machines, just as Windows administrators don't understand how Unix DNS is handling the Windows clients," Larsen explained. The learning curve for both groups to master the other is large. However, every effort should be made to understand the effects of changing small things in DNS on a Windows machine in the network, he said.

Companies too departmentalized
Michael Pratt is also a senior desktop technician at Trumbull, Conn.-based Trilegiant. There, different departments often purchase or develop software for their own needs, he said. However, that very software becomes a big issue during OS migrations. "If we were able to create and control software standards across the enterprise, we would know what types of software are being used and their possible limitations, such as OS requirements," he said. Further, software standardizations could help eliminate unnecessary purchases of software packages that another department may be currently using.

So, said Pratt, if he knew what software is being used, it would help make migrations easier. "I would be more aware of the requirements that need to be fulfilled prior to migrating." For example, he said, problems could develop if a department uses a 16-bit application that runs on a Windows 95 platform but the IT department is not aware of it. That department could be migrated to Windows 2000 without addressing what should be done to make the 16-bit application work with Windows 2000.

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