Planning is the first step to a successful installation.

Installing Windows 2000, Part 1

Planning is the first step to a successful installation.

A hearty online welcome to you. This is the first installment of a new column that presents Windows 2000 (better known on this site as "Win2K") topics for people who aren't network gurus. My research shows that most articles written about Win2K these days are intended for advanced audiences, those who are incredibly comfortable with network concepts, terminology, and activities. But, surprisingly, in my day-to-day world of consulting as an MCSE, I'm far more likely to run into and work alongside those less experienced technical professionals yearning to improve their Win2K skills. People after my own heart!

You'll probably also notice that I speak more towards the small and medium-sized offices (SOMO) than I do the enterprise organization in this column. Perusing the common body of Win2K literature will show you that much of the published works on this technology are aimed squarely at the enterprise. 

In this first session we're going to look at installing Win2K and, more specifically, planning your installation.

Don't Break That Shrink-wrap Yet!

A significant amount of planning must occur before you actually start swapping floppies or CDs. This section will cover several critical planning areas: hardware, software, and the always-important miscellaneous to-do tasks.

Two is Better Than One

Let me share a few insights regarding Win2K-specific hardware needs beyond just advising the obvious (yes, you need a computer or two).

I'd stick to name brands; Dell or Compaq come quickly to mind. While working with Win2K in the final stages of its development, I never did get it to install on my reliable clone server; this clone, built by an MCSE-type friend of mine, had sufficient Pentium-class processor speed, memory (128M of RAM), and more than enough hard disk space (over 4G). OK, I finally did get it to install, but first I had to install Windows NT Workstation 4.0 and then upgrade to Win2K. What a pain!

On the other hand, installing Win2K on my testbed of name brand computers (a Dell PowerEdge 1300 server and a Compaq Professional Workstation 5100) was pleasantly uneventful. Hardware components were detected, the operating system was successfully installed, and so on. But far from being bored by the process, I've learned a thing or two relating to hardware planning, even with my best installation bouts.

Insist on a dual processor or better machine for running any flavor of Win2K. Admittedly, much of my experience to date with Win2K is based on versions distributed late in the Win2K development cycle. This is typically code that contains debugging symbols, resulting in significantly higher overhead and less robust performance than you would expect with the shipping version. And even with my dual processor machines, Win2K had its slow moments. The lesson I learned was this: Win2K is huge and really requires a dual processor machine (otherwise, you'll be tapping your fingers waiting for various Win2K components, such as the Microsoft Management Console, a administration tool, to start). The good news is that adequately-configured dual processor machines are relatively cheap and can be acquired for under US$3,000.

Regarding other hardware, I was pleased to see that, to date, Win2K has offered a hardware driver for every hardware component I've introduced into my network. These hardware components include Hewlett Packard (HP) printers using an HP JetDirect card, a DAT tape drive, and Sound Blaster sound card.

Compelling Reasons

Be sure to step back from your Win2K installation project for a moment and ask yourself why you're installing Win2K. Is it to be the first on your block (the cool factor) to run Win2K? Are there compelling business factors? (Read Anil Desai's article, "Getting Down to Business: Selling Management on Windows 2000," in the November 1999 issue and my article, "Amazing Feast: Windows 2000 on the Table," in the December 1999 issue for some insights on this.) Is it because you're determined to become an MCSE and you want to start out with the latest and shiniest technology? Don't shy away from exploring your reasons for the installation. It could drive your decisions in many areas: investment for test equipment, timeframe, other resources you'll require, training options. 

At some point in the future, you may discover that you've got to install the software because your application vendor demands it. Look for application vendors pushing accounting and database management products to require Win2K upgrades.

Speaking of applications, it's critical to have a definite answer as to whether your existing applications will run on Win2K. Is your existing accounting system Win2K OK? Planning and testing are important here; you don't want to find out this vital information after the rollout is scheduled; determine it up front. At the same time learn all you can about whether your current applications will take advantage of Win2K-isms such as Active Directory (AD). That's the best of all worlds: an existing application that's Win2K OK and exploits the Win2K strengths such as AD!

More Words to the Wise

Make sure you've taken a few minutes to acquire an Internet domain name. This domain name will come in handy when you install Win2K Server and want to name your internal network domain the same as your Internet domain. And be sure to order your Internet domain name several weeks in advance of your Win2K installation. The organization that assigns Internet domain names, Networking Solutions (, sometimes has a significant backlog resulting in surprisingly long fulfillment delays.

Likewise, make sure you've also selected an Internet Service Provider (ISP) prior to jumping into a Win2K installation (you'll need information from your ISP in order to reserve your domain name). Call it a best practice, but it's much more pleasant to have your ISP service ready when your Win2K server is ready. Win2K, at many turns, assumes you're ready to hop on the Internet (something you'll discover in future columns).

Finally, remember, your first installation of Win2K should take place in a test lab environment, a machine that won't make your network come crashing down.

Let The Installation Begin

The installation process can be divided into three stages, as seen in Figure 1: character-based setup, GUI setup, and configuration).

Figure 1. Win2K's three configuration phases are similar in nature to the legacy NT Server configuration phases, if you're familiar with those.

Character-based Setup

Starting with the Win2K Server boot disk (assuming a Win2K Server installation), you'll swap out a total of four floppy disks.

Shortly after inserting the first disk, the Win2K Server boot disk, note that you can hit the F6 key to install third-party storage device drivers such as RAID arrays. This will be an important option as new storage devices are introduced ahead of future Win2K releases. Why? Because Win2K, while reasonably well equipped to detect nearly all storage devices today, won't be able to keep this edge as hardware manufacturers release new storage devices never anticipated by Win2K.

I've counted 19 discrete steps in the character-based setup, so understand that this is a fairly lengthy and involved stage.

A few words about these 19 steps. It's here that the foundation for your installation of Win2K is being laid. That is, the storage devices, I/O cards and so on are being detected. Needless to say, this is an important stage, and I'd encourage you to watch it with interest. A few extra minutes of attention during the character-based setup phase will in all likelihood prevent hours of frustration later. One example is your ability to confirm the hardware devices you know to be installed on your system and detected by Win2K.

Be advised that if Win2K somehow misdetects a component, you must be ready to step in and provide the component manufacturer's driver disk; so be sure to organize and have available the software that came with your workstation (such as the SCSI card driver disk) before you start your Win2K installation.

Another suggestion: You'll select between the NTFS or FAT file system. Do yourself a big favor and select NTFS; as the native file system for Win2K; it supports quotas, advanced security, and compression.

GUI Setup

Upon reboot, you'll enter the GUI setup phase, where you'll provide the following information after device detection (using a service called Device Manager):

  • Name. Your given name is fine although many organizations have naming conventions such as simply entering the name "User".
  • Organization.
  • Licensing mode. Per Server or Per Seat. Per seat is the most complete licensing method; it allows the user to legally access all Win2K Server resources on a network but tends to be more expensive. Contrast that with per server, which lets you typically buy fewer licenses so that only selected users can access specific servers. An example of per server licensing is having the accounting staff access only the accounting server.
  • Computer name. The shorter the name the better; you'll often have to type the computer name when mapping a drive or during other maintenance chores. Naming conventions vary. Kinko's, the chain of photocopy stores, is know for naming its computers after Hollywood icons such as Marilyn Monroe. Many sites incorporate a geographic reference into the computer names such as SW1 for Southwest One.
  • Administrator password.
  • Win2K Components ranging from Certificate Services to Terminal Services Licensing. For now, unless you have compelling reasons to the contrary, just install the suggested components. Once your Win2K machine is up, running, fat and sassy, you can add additional components on an as-needed basis. In future columns I'll discuss optional Win2K components and how you'd install such beasties.
  • Date.
  • Time.
  • Network Settings. Typical or Custom. The typical setting will allow you to install basic networking based on the default TCP/IP protocol. The custom setting allows you to add more network functionality, such as the NWLink IPX protocol to "talk" with NetWare servers.

Oh, and about the default TCP/IP protocol. It's the protocol that forms the communication standard for most computers running today on Planet Earth. Why? Because it's the protocol for Internet-based communications.


Another reboot and you enter the configuration phase. I dedicate next month's column to configuring Win2K above and beyond the initial installation; but in this phase you make basic configuration settings, including:

  • Elect whether your machine is attached to a network or not. You should know in advance whether your computer will participate on a network or not.
  • Answer whether your machine will operate as a domain controller or not. Typically, the first computer running Win2K Server on a network is a domain controller. A machine running Win2K Professional isn't a domain controller. The domain controller provides housekeeping functions such as providing security for user logons.
  • Configure Active Directory, DHCP, and DNS. This is the land of future columns, but a Win2K Server machine acting as a domain controller may well be asked to manage the Active Directory, DHCP, and DNS functions. A Win2K Professional machine will use Active Directory, act as a DHCP client to get its TCP/IP network address, and use DNS to resolve host names (such as finding that new Web auction site!).

You now have a Win2K server machine. In all likelihood, the process took 60 to 90 minutes. But don't be fooled. Your Win2K journey has just started, and countless hours of work await you. Next month you'll spend a few of those hours configuring Win2K Server. Please join me back here, same time, same place.

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