Analysts and corporate users are saying the Windows 2000 migration may be the toughest in computer history. They're also warning that you need to begin the work long before the first desktop or server is switched over.
The migration, which may take a year or two in large companies, will begin with a personnel sheet in hand, a training schedule and a drawing of the entire network. The planning work is the most important part of the migration, as well as the most difficult.
"This is very complex, and you want to get it right the first time," says Laura DiDio, a director at Giga Information Group. "Even if people don't plan on migrating for 15 or 18 months, they should be planning now. This is the time to look at their system and figure out what the big hurdles will be, and look at their IT team and figure out who is going to handle what."
Shanen Boettcher, Microsoft's lead product manager for Win 2000, says network administrators should start by matching the major migration jobs that need to be done with members of their IT team. And there are a lot of complex jobs to consider. Boettcher says you should think about how to whittle 30 or 40 domains down to two or three; how to dole out more specific privileges to administrators who previously had free rein; how to ensure that current applications will be compatible with the new operating system, and whether to upgrade in stages or in one fell swoop.
The migration planning issues are difficult because Win 2000 is very different from Windows NT 4.0 and more complex. For example, Win 2000 offers Microsoft's first across-the-board directory, Active Directory, and a new Kerberos security feature. Microsoft's Kerberos security offers stronger user authentication and mutual authentication. It's not, however, compatible with Unix security and is completely different to NT 4.0 security.
One of the first things network administrators will have to decide is which issue, or issues, will be their main focus. Shops of different sizes will have different priorities, as will different types of businesses.
For instance, a financial services firm or an e-commerce business will most likely put a lot of focus on Win 2000's new security model. That means IT workers will need to study Kerberos and learn to use and administer it. It also means that the administrator probably will want a dedicated team to deploy security, test it and watch for problems down the road.
For Al Williams, director of distributed systems at the Penn State Centre for Academic Computing, making sure his hundreds of current applications are compatible with the new system is his biggest challenge - and the issue he has his IT team working on the hardest.
Updating the applications is such a complex task that Williams, who oversees 2000 desktops and 60 or 70 servers in 45 labs, had to postpone his target migration date. He originally hoped to have the new operating system implemented by the beginning of this semester, but now he's hoping to have Win 2000 running in a few classrooms and labs by the start of the next semester,. in January.
"We don't have the luxury to have people working solely on the migration," Williams says. "Most of my people are working on getting the applications converted but they still have to keep everything else up and running."
Staying focused on the Win 2000 migration is key to success, according to a Gartner report. The analyst firm suggests that migrations of more than 500 desktops will require separate positions for the chief architect and project manager to handle the heavy workload. The report also recommends that the network administrator plan the normal work schedule around those people so they can focus solely on the migration.
But for many organisations such as Penn State, that may be more than they can hope for, and dealing with a migration on top of normal job duties is a realistic part of the plan.
Pat Ryan, senior design engineer for a food equipment manufacturer, says building in time for unplanned crises and project setbacks is almost as important as determining which members of the team will specialise in certain parts of the operating system, and which parts of the migration will get the biggest chunk of their attention.
"You really have to focus on the plan with a job this big," says Ryan, who is getting ready to start the planning portion of his Win 2000 migration. "That prevents you from going off on tangents and focusing on issues that really aren't a priority. You have to sit down and look at why you're adopting Windows 2000 and then steer your people away from working on anything but that."