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.
- By John K. Waters
- July 01, 2000
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.
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,
“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
- Plan, plan, and plan some more.
- Inventory hardware and software
- 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,
- 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
“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
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
—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
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
—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
|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
Altiris Express 4.1, $1,695
Server, desktop management suite includes
PC Transplant Pro, for automating the
migration of servers and desktops to
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
614-336-9223, fax 614-761-9620
DirectManage, approx. $10 per
Management suite includes DirectMigrate
2000, which provides migration based
on a wide range of configurable scenarios.
Entevo Corp. (recently acquired by BindView
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
Lucent Technologies, Inc.
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.
San Ramon, Calif.
925-831-4746, fax 925-855-3266
Desktop DNA 2.0, $245 for 5-user
Migration suite includes cloning, mirroring,
and disaster recovery tools.
Miramar Systems, Inc.
Santa Barbara, Calif.
OnePoint, contact company for
Mission Critical Software, Inc.
713-548-1700, fax 713-548-1770
NetDeploy Global, contact company
Management suite and services aimed
at large-scale, multi-site enterprise
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.
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
—Christopher Williams, executive vice
president of networks, computers, and
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
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
“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 www.microsoft.com/windows2000/upgrade/upgradereqs/default.asp.)
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
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.”
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
“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
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.”