Embracing Windows Server 2003: Moving 30 Remote Sites Running Windows NT
- By Linda Briggs
- December 17, 2003
For Raycom Media, a critical application drove the decision to
roll out the new OS: Exchange Server 2003. For the company's 30
broadcast television stations across the U.S., with 2,000-plus
employees, Exchange is the mission-critical application.
Compelling new features in Exchange 2003 cemented the decision to
move from Exchange 5.5, and hence the move off of Windows NT 4.0.
Jim Upchurch is the manager of systems administration for Raycom,
based in Montgomery, Alabama. Upchurch's Windows Server 2003
rollout, which actually began in fall 2001 as a Windows 2000
rollout, involved migrating all 30 local TV stations across the
The sites included 13 Exchange servers, 2,000 mailboxes, and
110 servers filling other roles. The rollout consolidated the
enterprise from 25 NT domains and four peer-to-peer workgroups
to a single consolidated Windows 2003 domain.
The migration took two steps, beginning with an 18-month process
that proved to be the hardest, but most critical, part: Consolidation
of all the domains and workgroups into a single NT domain. The
second step, an in-place upgrade of the NT domain to a Windows 2003
Active Directory domain, was then easy. The domain consolidation
took 18 months--not because of its complexity, but because of the
logistics Upchurch and his team faced in traveling to each of the
30 sites while still maintaining IS support duties in Montgomery.
Despite the time it took, consolidating first "was the most
critical decision we made," Upchurch says, and saved huge amounts
of time later. He describes a migration planning phase that was
lengthy and critical, and included long discussions about
multi-domain forests vs. integrating and managing through
organizational units (OUs). But Upchurch realized from his
copious readings that they wanted to keep things as simple as
possible, so they decided on a single domain. "All the sources
say that one of the keys is to use as few domains as you can get
away with, and one if possible. So we did."
Upchurch is proud of the fact that they conducted the entire
migration without third-party tools. "All the case studies that I
read talked about third-party tools," Upchurch says. Even the
Microsoft Consulting Services representative they called in at
one point for a bid planned to use third-party tools. Eventually,
they declined that service as too costly and proceeded on their own.
At almost the last minute, when they were still planning to move
to Win2K, Windows 2003 shipped. They "took a big gulp and decided
to go with it," Upchurch says.
Windows 2003 offered compelling reasons to jump over Win2K,
including better administration tools for AD--tools that are
proving important now that he's directly managing 2,000 user
accounts. He also predicted that Win2K was going to have a shorter
lifespan than the long-lived NT.
Gradually, over a year and a half, Upchurch or his assistants
visited each site. And with help from station IS managers, many
of whom were principally broadcast engineers, all stations were
moved into a single domain. Most sites had about a hundred seats,
though the largest had 250. Under NT, four of the sites were
peer-to-peer workgroups; the remainder had their own domains,
as did corporate headquarters. Trust relationships connected
those domains that included Exchange servers; the rest
As they visited each site, Upchurch's team also installed and
configured a backup DC for the consolidated domain. That made
the next step, the upgrade to Windows 2003, "unbelievably easy,"
It helped that the company had purchased a new Dell PowerEdge
server for each site, along with an OS license. That allowed
Upchurch to designate that server as the site's domain
controller (DC), free from file server, print server or
application server duties.
As the AD kickoff date approached, Upchurch installed a new
desktop machine at corporate headquarters and then, as he
describes it, "made it a perfectly clean NT 4.0 backup domain
controller for the consolidated domain, which we then promoted
briefly to be the primary domain controller for that domain.
We then upgraded in place to Windows Server 2003, making the
system briefly a Windows Server 2003 hybrid domain. We then
DCPROMO'ed two new Windows 2003 servers, transferred the FSMO
roles to them, DCPROMO'ed the former PDC down to a member server,
removed it from the network, and shipped it off to do other
things." The entire process worked beautifully, Upchurch
remembers, and took just a few hours.
In the beginning, migrating a 100-workstation TV station to
another domain, including user accounts, mailboxes, servers,
user profiles, and more, took close to 12 hours. As Upchurch's
team developed procedures, that dropped to five or so hours of
steady teamwork. His objective at each station: Make the
migration as invisible as possible from the user's point of
view, and complete it in a single overnight visit so that
business wasn't disrupted.
Not for Lack of Info
One challenge they've faced: Lots of information on Windows
2003 isn't yet in Microsoft's Knowledge Base. Answers sometimes
still refer to Win2K; he's often not sure if they can be
extrapolated to Windows 2003 or not.
Upchurch's advice in retrospect: Don't be scared off by the
huge amount of planning that all the migration books seem
to recommend. "If you're familiar with your network and
experienced with NT and Exchange, you certainly have to plan,
but don't think you have to spend the next three years [on it.]"
Tomorrow we profile a Canadian's firm's on-going, cautious
efforts to evaluate the new platform for its truly
mission-critical 24x7 environment.
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.