Embracing Windows Server 2003: Tales from Early Adopters, Part 1
- By Linda Briggs
The reasons for embracing Windows Server 2003--and the problems--
differ with every company. To understand exactly what these
rollouts take, we talked to four project managers at four very
different companies, who learned four very different lessons.
From a small ISP running homemade hardware who has casually
upgraded four servers so far, to a giant Midwest manufacturing
firm with thousands of servers, the bottom line is this:
Windows 2003 is uncommonly polished for a first release, but
there are still glitches to watch out for.
Homegrown Hardware at a Small ISP
For a small ISP in Pennsylvania working with lots of homemade
hardware and still trying to remain competitive, a single big
reason forced a move from Windows 2000 to Windows Server 2003
Enterprise Edition: Internet Information Server 6.0.
And when it came time to switch, the ISP, DelcoNET Internet
Services, hired a professional moving man. Ryan Conrad is a
Windows/Intel analyst with a large pharmaceutical company in
the northeast who also consults for the small business ISP.
Conrad, an MCSE on Windows 2000 and 2003, is crystal-clear on
why he installed the new OS on four servers, with plans to
upgrade 10 or so more shortly: Dramatic improvements in
IIS 6.0, which ships with Windows 2003.
For starters, speed improvements in both Windows and IIS 6.0
will allow for server consolidation, Conrad says, which makes
good business sense. Better performance also helps hold on to
clients, although that can't always be quantified. "It doesn't
matter to the client what we're running on, but we're able to
run faster pages with IIS 6.0. We're able to serve things
faster. We're able to do better resource allocation," Conrad says.
Because the ISP's clients run a variety of software, the
application-pooling features in IIS 6.0 are a huge improvement.
"The app pooling is one of the biggest [factors]. We have a
diverse population of clients... If one site goes down, it
doesn't kill anybody else."
SharePoint, and There's The Security Thing
Another push to upgrade was SharePoint Server 2003. "SharePoint
2003 takes advantage of IIS 6, so we're able to offer many
portal servers. It also has ASP.NET support. We needed to
provide that support to customers who requested it. Some of
our customers are on the cutting edge [and] develop on the
Questions about hardware and software compatibility often dog
new Microsoft operating systems, and Windows 2003 is no
exception. Many vendors are still awaiting official
certification from Microsoft. But Conrad's small ISP shop runs
a wide range of hardware and software, much of it homebuilt,
and compatibility hasn't been a problem.
"I haven't seen any compatibility problems and I haven't seen
any glaring holes," Conrad says. "A lot of what I'm finding is
that stuff isn't necessarily certified [to run under Windows
2003], but that doesn't mean that it doesn't work."
Security is much better than in earlier Microsoft operating
systems, Conrad says, but there were some challenges in the
initial installation. "It comes with a lot of stuff turned
off, and I'm not going to lie, it gave us some problems with
the internal testing at first. ... We had to dive a little
deeper and unlock some of those security features." Rolling
out such a new OS wasn't a concern, he says. "The only thing
Microsoft has problems with when they release a new OS is
security... I can tell you that Windows 2003 is secure out of
the box. It rocks."
The move to Windows 2003 is a relatively modest one, Conrad
says, compared to upgrades from NT 4.0 to Win2K. "The features
that you get when you move [to 2003], though, are substantial.
From a security standpoint, the features are huge."
A slight issue with FrontPage during the installation was the
only blip. The ISP uses FrontPage extensions heavily, and a
production server, running Win2K, was running FrontPage 5.0
with server extensions. For some reason, the permissions on
the accounts to allow Internet access didn't survive the upgrade.
Rather than take the time and expense to open a support call
with Microsoft, Conrad and a colleague went through and manually
reset the permissions in a few hours.
Ease on Down the Migration Road
With the Windows 2003 rollout a success so far, next on the list
is upgrading the ISP's three domain servers. "It's coming,"
Conrad says. "We just wanted to make sure that this part went
smoothly. It's a 'Don't make too many changes at once' kind of thing."
Next: The migration efforts of an organization with 30
television stations across the country and 2,000-plus employees.
Linda Briggs is the founding editor of MCP Magazine and the former senior editorial director of 101communications. In between world travels, she's a freelance technology writer based in San Diego, Calif.