Make the Move to Windows 2000: Advice from the Experts

Migrating to a system as complex as Windows 2000 is tough. Here's what consulting firms and analysts recommend as you plan your company's deployment.

Few technologies are receiving as much attention within IT organizations these days as Microsoft’s newest operating system. By most accounts, it’s everything we’ve been hoping for. Windows 2000 Professional is faster and more stable than Windows 95 or 98, and Windows 2000 Server is tricked out with long-awaited features and functionality. But deciding when and how to migrate to Win2K is no simple matter. Although rollouts seem to be well under way (Microsoft asserts that the new OS has already been deployed on approximately 1.5 million computers), many IT departments are still in the planning stages. Many more companies are just starting to give serious consideration to such a project. The fact is, migrating to Win2K—especially in a medium to large enterprise—is a bit more complicated than double-clicking a Setup icon.

“There are lots of things to think about here,” says Kurt Schlegel, senior IT industry analyst at META Group. “And you should consider every aspect of your rollout strategy carefully. But the bottom line is this: Windows 2000 is here [and] it’s a stable platform.”

According to Stamford, Conn.-based research firm the GartnerGroup, half of organizations preparing to roll out Win2K last year used outside consultants at some phase—and that number is expected to grow. By 2003, more than 90 percent of companies rolling out Win2K will hire outside support during some phase of deployment, Gartner says.

Given that fact, here’s some advice from a sprinkling of consulting and integration firms that deploy Win2K professionally—how they approach the job, and how they suggest you approach your own rollout.

What the Experts Say...
“Any consulting company knows that [a Win2K rollout] has got to be done on a time-and-materials basis,” Webster says. “No one can realistically say that they can do it for you for a single price. Life is just too complicated.”
—Chet Webster, director, Microsoft technology services group, Getronics

Plan Until It Hurts

If there’s a single recommendation shared by virtually all consultants, solution providers, and industry analysts regarding the migration process, it is this: plan, plan, plan.

“There’s just no way to emphasize this enough,” says Schlegel. “This is where organizations can significantly reduce the pain of this migration. They should evaluate their current architecture to determine what changes and impacts the implementation of Windows 2000 may have. They should look at their hardware, their software, and their network to make sure that they’ve got everything they need to make the most of the new OS.”

According to Christopher Williams, until recently executive vice president of networks, computers, and solutions for FrontWay, a Columbus, Ohio-based networking and e-business solutions provider, the planning process should begin with a clarification of the reasons for the migration. Williams is currently an independent consultant on e-commerce in Southern California. On a fundamental level, Williams says, companies migrate to Windows 2000 for one of two reasons: they want it for what is does, and they want it for what it doesn’t do.

“Some people simply want the added stability,” Williams explains. “They’re just looking for a better operating system to do the things they’re already doing, something that will run their existing applications without crashing. They’re not looking for additional functionality.”

Other adopters, especially larger organizations, want the added features of Win2K Server. They’re looking for domain integration, directory services, software distribution, and terminal server capabilities; all of those features and functions—products, really—that make Win2K a powerful platform.

Development Tips
  • Plan, plan, and plan some more.
  • Inventory hardware and software thoroughly.
  • Clarify the business need: Is it stability or new features?
  • Assess your staff. Decide if you’ll need help, and how much.
  • Get some business expertise on the rollout team, not just technical.
  • Listen to the experts (large integrators, consultants, analysts).
  • Move slowly; invest in the test to ensure compatibility.
  • Crunch the hardware numbers to decide buy or upgrade.
  • Get a mandate from the top, then try to educate rebels in the trenches.

“Planning is about asking the right questions,” Williams says. “You need to ask yourself what your business needs are. You have to determine your priorities as an organization. If you think of Windows 2000 as a set of applications—which is the way you should think of it—you’ll want to decide which features and functions are going to give you the most bang for your buck. And you’ll want to ask yourself, how am I going to prioritize my implementation to focus on these components?”

So, which should you roll out first, Windows 2000 Professional or Server?

“We’re finding Server and Professional are most often being rolled out in tandem,” says Williams. “Rolling out the desktop is a whole lot easier to do. It’s a pretty basic upgrade. New machines are being shipped predominantly with Windows 2000 Professional. The OS will interoperate with whatever backend you have. But the desktops tend to be controlled more often by departments, and the servers tend to be controlled by the IS department, so conflicts do arise.”

What the Experts Say...
“It’s important that you have both the business understanding up front, and then the technical understanding for the actual implementation, plus some specific familiarity with the features and functions that matter most to your organization.”
—Doug Field, national practice manager, Microsoft technology services group, Getronics

Home Grown or Hired Guns?

One of the biggest questions facing organizations considering a Win2K rollout is, do we really need to hire outside services and consultants to make this happen? Unfortunately for budgeting, the answer is often, in a word, yup.

“You definitely want to get some outside help with this,” says META Group’s Schlegel. “You don’t necessarily have to hire the physical labor if you’ve got the bodies and the internal expertise. But for the planning, the architecture work, the design, the testing, creating the installation builds and scripts, you will want at least to talk with people who have done this before. You don’t necessarily have to buy a lot of services, but if you don’t have the expertise, you’ll want to reach out to someone who has.”

At least one of the advantages of hiring an outside service provider or consultant to assist in a Win2K rollout is obvious: There’s nothing like working with someone who’s done it before to reduce the costs and hassles and boost the overall efficiencies of the process. Win2K is a large, complex operating system, freighted with features and functionality. Someone who has implemented the system before is going to work faster and with a much greater likelihood of success than someone who is learning along the way. Also, third parties by their very nature are outside internal political squabbles (got any Novell folks in your shop?). They thus tend to focus resources and keep a project on track.

But even if you hire help, the final implementation team is likely to include people from inside and outside the company. How many people? According to Doug Field, national practice manager for the Microsoft technology services group at Getronics, the size and makeup of an implementation team can vary widely with the size and needs of the organization. Headquartered in Amsterdam, Getronics is a network technology services and solutions provider offering Win2K implementation services. A full Win2K rollout should include a project manager and at least one architect (sometimes two), Field says. The total number depends on the extent of things like hardware replacement. “Some of these [companies] have to replace half their PCs,” he says. “Others can accomplish the rollout with a few upgrades, which requires fewer people.”

What the Experts Say...
“The question is, do you yank the [bandage] off fast or slow? If you adopt something approaching a pure attrition strategy and roll out Windows 2000 as you replace your PCs according to your usual PC refresh cycle, every two to three years, you won’t see a huge cost bubble.”
—Kurt Schlegel, senior IT industry
analyst, META Group

Early in the process, technical depth is less important than business expertise. According to Field, members of the implementation team should have a good and thorough understanding of the business needs of the organization. They should have a clear idea of how it uses its applications, and they should understand the benefits that additional features of the new OS bring to a particular organization. Field says that Windows rollout providers who simply offer Win2K certified personnel may not be able to deliver the kind of business savvy you need up front.

But as you move into the guts of implementation, you’ll need solid, certified technical people with both an overall familiarity with Win2K and specific familiarity with your company’s applications and how you use them.

“It’s important that you have both the business understanding up front, and then the technical understanding for the actual implementation, plus some specific familiarity with the features and functions that matter most to your organization,” Field says.

Which Service and Solution?

The release of Win2K has spawned a wriggling mass of Win2K service providers. How do you find a good one?

“There are several ways [to find help with rollouts],” says Tranxition president Ken Mackin. His company sells a Win2K migration product, Personality Tranxport Professional (see “Third-Party Rollout Tools.”) “One is to burn a large amount of incense and pray to the right gods. Another is to listen to all the people who claim to be experts in Win2K migration—the large integrators, the corporate resellers, and the service providers. Some of these companies actually are very skilled.”

The key thing to keep in mind, Mackin says, is that Win2K is a whole new ballgame, with different rules than other Microsoft operating systems—which means true expertise is hard to find. “Make these people prove to you that they have the expertise,” he advises. “If you’re going to be the guinea pig, then you should get the sweetheart deal.”

Third-Party Rollout Software
Many Win2K rollout services use third-party software to facilitate some processes. FrontWay, for example, uses a product from FastLane Technologies Inc. called FastLane DM/Suite, which provides a set of utilities to assist in network assessment and the domain integration process. Microsoft used FastLane to facilitate its own move to Windows 2000. Sizing up a consulting service’s third-party tools is one way to get a bead on the outfit and evaluate the quality of its offering.

A product from Tranxition Corporation, a Beaverton, OR-based vendor, helps facilitate the migration of Office 97 and Win2K with Personality Tranxport Professional technology. The product takes a bitmap image of the hard drive, including the desktop settings, many of the control panel settings, the most recently used documents, the partitions, and the installed drivers. That image or “ghost” is stored on a CD or a network as a “personality package” that users take with them from Windows 95, 98, or NT to the new Win2K environment.

“Either you’re deploying new hardware at the same time as you’re deploying Win2K, or you’re deploying Win2K on the same or upgraded machines,” says Tranxition president Ken Mackin. “In either case, the analysts are recommending that you start fresh, that you ghost the hard drives in both cases.”

For more rollout tools, check out these current offerings:

Altiris Express 4.1, $1,695 50-user license
Server, desktop management suite includes PC Transplant Pro, for automating the migration of servers and desktops to Windows 2000.
Altiris, Inc.
Lindon, Utah
801-226-8500, fax 801-226-8506

Controlled Migration Suite, contact company for pricing
Suite comprised of three database-driven applications -- Enterprise Directory Reporter, Domain Migration Wizard, and Enterprise Delegation Manager -- designed specifically for planning and managing large-scale migration projects.
Aelita Software Group
Powell, Ohio
614-336-9223, fax 614-761-9620

DirectManage, approx. $10 per managed user
Management suite includes DirectMigrate 2000, which provides migration based on a wide range of configurable scenarios.
Entevo Corp. (recently acquired by BindView Corp.)
Arlington, Virginia
703-524-1900 x230, fax 703-524-3709

FastLane DM/Manager, approximately $8 per managed user
Active Directory support provides extensive project planning for automated migration of NT servers to Windows 2000.
FastLane Technologies Inc.
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
902-421-5353, fax 902-422-8449

Lucent NetworkCare, contact company for pricing
Managed enterprise network services, with integrated Windows 2000 migration plan.
Lucent Technologies, Inc.
Sunnyvale, Calif.
650-318-1000, fax 650-318-1001

Trusted Enterprise Manager, contact company for pricing
Includes tools for migrating from Windows NT 4.0 to Windows 2000.
MDD, Inc.
San Ramon, Calif.
925-831-4746, fax 925-855-3266

Desktop DNA 2.0, $245 for 5-user license
Migration suite includes cloning, mirroring, and disaster recovery tools.
Miramar Systems, Inc.
Santa Barbara, Calif.
800-862-2526, 805-966-2432

OnePoint, contact company for pricing
Mission Critical Software, Inc.
Houston, Texas
713-548-1700, fax 713-548-1770

NetDeploy Global, contact company for pricing
Management suite and services aimed at large-scale, multi-site enterprise rollouts.
Open Software Associates, Inc.
Nashua New Hampshire
603-886-4330, fax 603-598-6877

Enterprise Desktop Manager, price based on configuration
Management suite targeted at enterprise rollouts, typically more than 500 servers at multiple sites.
Novadigm, Inc.
Emeryville, Calif.

What the Experts Say...
“If you think of Windows 2000 as a set of applications—which is the way you should think of it—you’ll want to decide which features and functions are going to give you the most bang for your buck.”
—Christopher Williams, executive vice president of networks, computers, and solutions, FrontWay

Weighing the Costs

And what is all this help going to cost, sweetheart? According to Chet Webster, director of the Microsoft technology services group at Getronics, you can expect to pay between $200 and $250 per hour for rollout services—and you’re unlikely to find many consultants offering a flat rate. “Any consulting company knows that [a Win2K rollout] has got to be done on a time-and-materials basis,” Webster says. “No one can realistically say that they can do it for you for a single price. Life is just too complicated.”

According to Schlegel of META Group, the overall cost per workstation of a Win2K migration could be “a small hiccup” of between $200 and $300, or a large belch approaching $2,000 per desktop.

“The cost can be all over the map,” he says. “It depends on the organization. If you’re in a cutting-edge enterprise with a brand new IT infrastructure and very good automated processes for change management, it’s not going to be so bad.”

But some organizations, he says, aren’t going to be so lucky. If you’re working with older technologies and your company’s change processes leave something to be desired, you’re in for some pain—$1,500 to $1,800 per seat, he says.

“We expect that most folks are going to be in the $700- to $800-per-workstation range,” he says. “It’ll be a noticeable chunk out of their resources.”

Another important factor here is the depth and technical expertise of your own staff. A 100 percent Novell shop is not likely to have enough Windows-savvy people in-house to do very much on its own and keep things running, so those shops will be bringing in more bodies. Running NT 4.0 and having some staff on hand who have at least begun the certification process to become Win2K MCSEs will help.

And don’t forget to invest in the test. Virtually everyone working in this space recommends that organizations migrating put significant resources behind testing infrastructures and applications to make sure that both hardware and software will be compatible with the new OS.

“There’s absolutely no doubt about it,” says Schlegel. “We’ve run through numerous scenarios, and we’ve found that, as much as the design and testing labor is going to cost, you’re better off heavily supporting those folks up front and looking for your savings at the back end. Without testing, you’re in for a nightmare installation, which will really drive up the costs. [Testing] will make for an overall smoother migration.”

But there are other costs to this process, the most direct of which is the expense to the IT department of sending someone around to reconfigure all the upgraded PCs. Industry analysts have estimated that those costs could run between $200 (GartnerGroup) and $300 (IDC) per seat—and that doesn’t include the end user productivity loss.

How Fast Should You Move?

At least in part, the overall cost of a Windows 2000 rollout is also going to depend on your organization’s implementation timetable. According to Schlegel, there are basically two strategies here: “The question is, do you yank the [bandage] off fast or slow? If you adopt something approaching a pure attrition strategy and roll out Windows 2000 as you replace your PCs according to your usual PC refresh cycle, every two to three years, you won’t see a huge cost bubble. In that case, most of the costs are going to be attributable to your normal PC operating budget; the only new costs you’ll see is the design and testing work to create the new build, and some of the architectural work.

“But if you take too long, there’s an opportunity cost. Some people might ask, why don’t I just roll this thing out over three years? We don’t expect most people will do that. Those who do will miss out on some key features and benefits of Windows 2000.”

On the other hand, Schlegel says, organizations that try to jam out a Win2K implementation in three to six months are probably going to have to “refresh” their installed PC base. All of those upgrades and new PCs will be attributed directly to the Win2K migration, as opposed to the organization’s normal PC operating budget.

To Buy or To Upgrade

When all the numbers are tallied, the biggest cost of a Windows 2000 rollout, especially for medium-sized to large organizations, is likely to be new hardware. And that number depends on whether your organization upgrades its existing machines or hauls in a bunch of new PCs.

“No question, if you upgrade [hardware], it’s going to be cheaper,” says Schlegel. “But you can’t always upgrade. If you have machines that are on the threshold, if you have the processing power but you don’t have the memory, you might as well upgrade; if you don’t have the processing power, it’ll be too hard to replace the motherboard, and you might as well buy a new PC.”

And what exactly are the requirements you’re upgrading to? The minimum system requirements recommended by Microsoft for Win2K Professional include a 133 MHz or higher Pentium-compatible CPU, 64M of RAM, and a 2G hard drive. For Win2K Server, the company recommends a 133 MHz or higher Pentium-compatible CPU, 256M of RAM, and a 2G hard drive with a minimum of 1G of free space. (For more information, go to

But is that really all it’s going to take?

“The minimum requirements to run your operating system are irrelevant,” says Williams. “What really matters is what it’ll take to run the applications the organization is running on the system. [For] a big Web site, for example, Microsoft’s minimum standard requirements just won’t be enough to handle it. How many users do you expect? How many hits per day? What kind of volume do you expect? Are you going to use one server or a server farm? Is the site hosted internally or by a third-party provider? Is it a predictable user base, or is it like Yahoo!, where anybody can log on at any time? The answers to these kinds of questions will help you to figure out how much hardware you really need.”

Schlegel recommends that users consider a minimum processor speed of 300 MHz and 128M of memory to get any kind of satisfactory performance from either Win2K Server or Professional. Field recommends a fast Pentium III and 128M of RAM as a minimal standard. As for hard drives, the 1G recommended by Microsoft is probably fine, but larger drives are cheap and ubiquitous, so why not get one that’s plenty big?

Between the cost of the OS itself and the tools and services it generates, the migration path to Win2K is almost certainly going to generate heaping piles of cash, both for Microsoft and its partners. According to Dataquest, a unit of the GartnerGroup, combined global demand for Windows NT and the Windows 2000 platform will present a “$23 billion opportunity” to Microsoft and its partners by the year 2003. Centered in Europe (projected $5.4 billion) and North America (projected $11.3 billion), the worldwide market is growing at a compound annual rate of 30.6 percent.

To NT or Not to NT

For organizations currently running on Windows NT 4.x, a Win2K rollout should follow a fairly straightforward upgrade path. But for enterprises moving from Windows 95 and 98 to Windows 2000 Professional, Microsoft has recommended a “wipe and load” approach for a clean install.

“Some people are saying that NT is the best platform from which to move to Windows 2000,” says Schlegel. “There’s really no question that it is. You can use the user profiles to move the end user data, you have a much better chance of compatibility, and you have much better standardization with NT.”

But if your organization isn’t already standardized on NT, should you go from wherever you are to NT and then on to Win2K? Schlegel says no.
“If you’re not already on NT,” he explains, “you might as well just go directly to Windows 2000.”

Perhaps more challenging for some organizations is the transition from a Novell-centric environment to Windows. Novell and Microsoft have been fighting a directory war for quite a while, and in-house adherents to Novell’s NDS (Novell Directory Services) may have strong prejudices against Microsoft’s Active Directory.

“If you have a lot of entrenched Novell skills in your organizations,” says Field, “you may find yourself facing some serious biases against an Active Directory implementation.”

How do you resolve these kinds of “political” issues? Start with a mandate from the top, Field says. Someone at a higher level in the organization is likely to have fewer biases of this kind, and is likely to be more focused on the company’s business objectives. But a successful Win2K rollout will require a buy-in from the staff in the trenches as well.

“We try to educate those in the Novell world about Win2K’s capabilities,” Field explains. “We’re finding that it works pretty well.”

What the Experts Say...
“The driver support is the only weak link that we can find. As long as you’re rolling [Win2K] out with name-brand systems, the driver support is brilliant. But if you’re buying, say, third-party network cards from fly-by-night outfits, you’re going to have driver problems.”
—Ken Mackin, president, Tranxition

When to Migrate

Everyone knows the rule of thumb when approaching new software (especially when it’s a Microsoft system software release): “Wait And See,” and its corollary, “Early Adopters Experience Pain” (“Danger Will Robinson! Wait for Version 2 or Service Pack Release 1!”). Yet even bitter and crusty industry analysts are positively sanguine about the early versions of the Windows 2000 products. The drawbacks cited by analysts haven’t targeted reliability, but rather on urging companies to carefully evaluate rollout costs.

“We keep looking for the [weaknesses] in the armor here, but we’re not finding too many,” says Schlegel. “A lot of folks we’ve talked to who have done early adoptive work have had very positive experiences with [both Server and Professional]. We’re still cautious on Active Directory and IntelliMirror; we’re not recommending that folks do that this year. But we’ve seen people who have had to do it sooner. I was amazed at how smooth it went.”

META Group, along with Microsoft, expects that most of the Win2K migrations will begin within the next 12 to 18 months.

“The driver support is the only weak link that we can find,” says Tranxition’s Mackin. “As long as you’re rolling it out with name-brand systems, the driver support is brilliant. But if you’re buying, say, third-party network cards from fly-by-night outfits, you’re going to have driver problems.”

Still, plenty of organizations migrating to Win2K will have to function for some time in “mixed mode”—that is, in a dual Windows 2000/NT environment. The problem here lies not with Windows, Field says, but with application vendors who have yet to make their products fully Win2K-compatible. Although virtually all major vendors have announced a commitment to do so, plenty are still working on it. For example, SAP, one of the largest and most widely used ERP applications on the market, currently runs fine on Professional, but still won’t run on Server.

“You can do it now, or you can do it later, but now or later, you’ve got to do it,” Field says. “Windows 2000 is part of an evolutionary process, and it’s just a great piece of software.”

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