Migrating to Windows 2000

FRAMINGHAM (07/24/2000) - Most companies are still on the fence regarding whether to move to Windows 2000. But a handful of organizations already have.

Here are some of the lessons they've learned.

1. It takes longer than you think.

First the good news: Once you get there, Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 2000 pretty much delivers on its promise, managers at pioneering information technology shops say. You get more server uptime, better manageability and fewer help desk calls.

"It has gone exceptionally well," says Scott Newton, senior technical architect at cookie maker Otis Spunkmeyer Inc. in San Leandro, Calif. The company is deploying Windows 2000 to 600 users in 63 offices. He says he has seen some "gotchas": There have been some memory leaks on domain controllers, and setting log-in scripts using group policies have failed.

"If that's the biggest [problem] so far, I'm very happy," says Newton.

But the road to Windows 2000 nirvana can be longer than anticipated.

If you plan to roll out Windows 2000 in the second quarter of next year, start planning today; it will take that long to plan your Active Directory structure and test applications, says Michael Silver, an analyst at Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn. Other things that have slowed migrations include missing or unreliable drivers and the wait for Service Pack 1 (due this summer).

2. Beware of the politics.

Windows 2000 creates a new distribution of power inside the enterprise. Active Directory and group policies help provide more power to central IT departments and less to business units and branch offices.

The political problems start in what is generally the first phase of a Windows 2000 rollout: the creation of an Active Directory tree. This tree structure is the basis for the computing infrastructure, security, desktop management and all kinds of future directory-enabled applications. It requires input from all business units.

"We're seeing companies get gridlocked in debate," says Barry Hutt, director of Dell Computer Corp.'s consulting arm in Round Rock, Texas, which has helped 30 companies migrate to Windows 2000.

"The most important thing to do is get a clear vision of what your business is, before you even start," says Diana Beecher, CIO at Travelers Property Casualty Corp. in Hartford, Conn. The company is on its way to converting 22,000 workstations and 1,500 servers by the end of next year.

For a large enterprise, coming up with an Active Directory structure alone can take at least nine months, says Silver. Putting an outsider in charge of creating the Active Directory structure can help "take the politics out of it," he says.

3. Lock down desktops.

The politics don't end there. For instance, wresting control of a company's domain name server from the Unix department (where it often resides) and assigning it to the Active Directory team has been a thorny issue for some.

Even more tricky is using Windows 2000 group policies to centrally control desktops - often referred to as "locking down" desktops. This is the only way to control total cost of ownership for Windows 2000 workstations, say project managers.

"A few users don't like it," says Christopher Smith, CIO at HomeLife Furniture Corp., which is completing its spin-off from retailer Sears, Roebuck and Co. in Hoffman Estates, Ill. "We just say, ‘We're sorry, but it's not your machine; it's our machine.' "Smith rolled out Windows 2000 to 150 users in HomeLife's Hoffman Estates headquarters in January. He's now gradually upgrading 2,000 more users in the company's 135 stores nationwide.

Although he has a 17-person IT staff, Smith says he's confident he can administer the network with just two people. To reach that goal, Smith took away users' rights to browse the internal network, install applications or access the DOS prompt.

HomeLife's end users will soon have to read and sign a security and access policy that explains why their desktops are being locked down. Explaining those reasons to users is paramount, says Beecher.

And there's been a positive surprise: End users often don't require training in order to move from Windows 95 or Windows NT 4.0 to Windows 2000. Otis Spunkmeyer didn't give end users any formal training, yet Newton says he has already seen a 40% drop in help desk calls.

4. Know why you're moving.

Many of the early movers to Windows 2000 share a common goal: They had a pressing reason to opt for the untested operating system. For Otis Spunkmeyer, the reason was simple: The existing network was highly unstable, so "I bulldozed everything," Newton says.

According to Ed Sammis, vice president of enterprise services for Microsoft technologies at IBM Global Services, more early movers should take the time to formally document total-cost-of-ownership goals to establish a sound business reason to migrate.

5. Plan all aspects of the migration.

"Meticulous, detailed planning" is the secret to Travelers' successful migration thus far, says Beecher. Travelers fine-tuned its migration scenarios for several months in an environment that simulated typical business tasks.

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