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Long-range ROI with Windows Server 2003 Migrations

When it comes to long-term return on investment, many of the arguments that held sway for the Windows 2000 generation of servers apply to the Windows Server 2003 group.

In most respects, Windows Server 2003 is like a point release upgrade of Windows 2000. Windows Server 2003 is a relatively minor upgrade with more enhancements of functionality than brand new features.

So the base-level cases for return on investment that Microsoft set three years ago in urging Windows NT 4.0 users to move on up to Windows 2000 are even stronger now for making a double jump from NT to Windows Server 2003. The basics are server consolidation, elimination of complex domains in favor of an Active Directory forest, and better system management capabilities.

Core improvements have been made in all these arguments for Windows Server 2003, and a few of them apply to users who have upgraded all or part of their infrastructure to Windows 2000 in the interim.

Server Consolidation

Microsoft has done a lot of work to make Windows Server 2003 a scalable and robust platform capable of running mixed application workloads. The ideal scenario is to consolidate workloads from dozens of small Windows NT 4.0 servers onto one huge SMP server that requires far less personnel and time to manage.

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To facilitate those scenarios, Microsoft has improved the base performance of the operating system to allow it to scale higher. The most publicized benchmarks for these systems show huge performance gains, but those don't apply because they involve 64-bit systems. Almost all the Windows applications that your organization will need to consolidate will be 32-bit. Nonetheless, there have been scalability improvements through tuning and other engineering changes that have make Windows Server 2003 more scalable than even Windows 2000 for more everyday 32-bit workloads. Those do apply, because it means your organization will be able to gang together more mixed applications on the four-way, eight-way and 16-way servers that are broadly available.

Microsoft has done more work to make those workloads manageable in the Windows Server 2003 generation with the Windows System Resource Manager, for allocating processors and memory to applications.

Later this year, an add-on for Windows Server 2003 called Virtual Server will make it possible to run Windows NT 4.0 applications within a Windows NT 4.0 virtual machine on a Windows Server 2003 system, lowering application porting costs.

Web Application Consolidation

With Internet Information Services 6.0, Microsoft also offers a server consolidation opportunity. IIS 6.0 allows applications to be combined on one server, but isolated from one another, so that crashed Web applications don't take down the entire server. The procedure requires some planning because a number of Web applications will need to be rewritten or modified to run properly on Windows Server 2003. The significant security improvements and other changes to the new operating system make application compatibility an issue to watch.

Active Directory

In a lot of ways, Active Directory forests are about server consolidation. You take all these domains, maintained by old Windows NT machines, you roll them all up into a forest or two and cut lots of old domain controllers out of the process.

The scalability of Active Directory is greatly improved in Windows Server 2003, especially in the area of replication. While replication events presented a drag on Windows 2000 Active Directory environments, the performance hit is much reduced in Windows Server 2003. For example, Microsoft has tuned replication performance enough that it has changed its recommendation of the number of locations that can be supported through dynamic creation of replication connectors from 100 in Windows 2000 to 5,000 in Windows Server 2003.

Architecturally, Active Directory is much more manageable for large organizations. Cross-forest trusts, the ability to rename domains and the ability to deactivate attributes and classes in the schema should make administration of the directory less intensive.

Management

Manageability was a huge push in Windows 2000, and in Windows Server 2003, Microsoft has extended those manageability improvements with much better remote administration capabilities.

The potential is there for organizations to reduce administrative expenses associated with visiting and touching machines in the event of failure. Windows Server 2003 adds headless support for administering and troubleshooting systems remotely and more command-line functionality to make it easier for Unix administrators to help with the support of Windows machines.

Wireless

One area that isn't going over the same ground that Windows 2000 covered is support for wireless implementations. As demand for wireless support gathers steam, Microsoft has moved in Windows Server 2003 to make it easier to set up and administer secure 802.1x networks.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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