Embracing Windows Server 2003: Tales from Early Adopters
Moving to a major new operating system is always daunting, but for these four companies, the switch to Microsoft’s latest OS was well worth it. In part 1 of this four-part series, a small ISP moved for the speed improvements as well as server consolidation.
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
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
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 newer platforms."
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
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."
Tomorrow: 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.