Survey: Security, Active Directory Drive Windows 2003 Plans

Security concerns are accelerating current migrations to Windows Server 2003, a new joint and Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine survey finds.

Security concerns are accelerating current migrations to Windows Server 2003, a new joint and Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine survey finds. Deployments of Active Directory and Exchange Server 2003 also figure prominently into migration plans, according to the survey. But even with the new capabilities of the Windows Server 2003 family, few Windows sites are ready to use the operating system to take on high-end enterprise inititatives such as 64-bit computing and Web services interoperability.

The survey covers 163 Windows sites, representing a range of companies and industries from mainly across North America. Uptake on Windows Server 2003 is in full swing – six out of ten Windows sites are already in the process of rolling out or have completed a rollout of Microsoft's latest server operating system. Major findings are highlighted below.

Most Windows sites are now in the process of moving at least some applications to Windows Server 2003. The only companies holding back are those that just completed a move to Windows 2000.

The survey confirms that one in six companies (17 percent) currently has the OS in production, and 43 percent have migrations in progress. Another 20 percent plan a gradual migration based on server attrition, and 20 percent say they either have no plans or are not sure.

Do you plan to migrate, or have you migrated, to Windows Server 2003?
(Source: survey, 163 responses
Answer Percentage
Yes, migration complete
Yes, rollout underway now
We're installing Windows 2003 gradually
No plans within the next 24 months
We'll never move to Windows Server 2003
Don't know/unsure

Once the migration process is underway, respondents plan to ramp up to Windows 2003 fairly quickly across their enterprises. Currently, 63 percent of companies in the survey report that more than half of their servers are running Windows 2000. Within a year, a majority, 52 percent, expect to be running Windows Server 2003 on most of the servers across their enterprises.

At this point, Windows 2000 Server dominates the server landscape, the survey shows. Currently, seven out of ten companies now (70 percent) consider Windows 2000 Server or Advanced Server to be the primary operating system deployed across most of the servers within their enterprises. Microsoft's legacy server operating system, Windows NT 4.0, is hanging on, though. NT is still the primary system at 14 percent of sites, and runs as a secondary OS within more than half (53 percent) of the enterprises surveyed.

While Linux increasingly is viewed as a competitive threat to Windows, it appears to be playing more of an adjunct role at this time. Only one respondent in the survey considers Linux as his or her company's primary operating system. Nevertheless, the survey finds Linux is widespread in many Windows shops. About 44 percent have Linux running on servers within their enterprises – making this the second-ranked secondary operating system.

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Not surprisingly, the high-tech sector – which includes software vendors and computer manufacturers – is taking the lead in Windows Server 2003 implementations. Completed and current migrations are also more evident in smaller companies, whereas larger organizations are more likely to be cycling older inventories of systems and applications that will be gradually be replaced over a period of a few years.

Among the 20 percent of companies that don't have immediate plans to migrate, more than a third, 35 percent, say it's because they have just completed a migration to Windows 2000.

Microsoft and Intel now offer an array of products for 64-bit computing, but this is not driving Windows Server 2003 migrations.

The survey confirms that 32-bit Windows computing will predominate for some time to come. So far, only a handful of companies have any plans to move to 64-bit versions of Windows. The survey finds that a total of 10 companies – or seven percent of the group planning a move to 2003 – say they plan to move to one of the 64-bit versions of the OS. The companies looking at 64-bit computing tend to be financial institutions with more than 5,000 employees and IT budgets exceeding $1 million a year. Far and away, most companies in this survey are planning to implement the Standard Edition of Windows Server 2003. Another 57 percent are planning to implement the 32-bit Enterprise Edition.

Most enterprises are moving to Windows Server 2003 for new security, e-mail and Active Directory features. Few say .NET is a reason to migrate, however.

In an era of rampant viruses, worms, and hacking incidents, security is driving many migration efforts to Windows 2003 Server. Windows platforms and applications have been the biggest target for malicious code writers, and therefore Microsoft has been under considerable pressure to deliver more secure systems and a more manageable approach to patches and updates.

In the survey, security is cited as one of the top three leading reasons for migrating to Windows Server 2003, with almost one-sixth of the group, 16 percent, saying this is the primary driver for moving to 2003. A large majority, 77 percent, cite security as a secondary reason for deploying to Windows 2003. New security features in Windows Server 2003 include a Local Security Authority, new Local Service and Network Service accounts, credential caching for alternate names and passwords, better protection of cryptographic elements from unauthorized password resets. In their comments, a number of respondents indicated that they would like to see more enhanced scurity management features in future Microsoft releases. Many comments, for example, centered around the efforts required to install security patches for numerous threats that have been arising. "We need the ability to apply most operating system patches without rebooting the system," said one.

Active Directory, a key component of the Windows Server 2003 security infrastructure, was in and of itself another key factor cited in Windows Server 2003 migration plans. Microsoft's latest version of Active Directory features the ability to store up to a billion objects, multiple domain controllers, better replication engine performance, and trusts that interface with multiple domains. About one out of six respondents, 17 percent, indicate that they are moving to Windows Server 2003 to take advantage of Microsoft's directory services, while 37 percent cite this as a secondary reason.

The need to upgrade to Exchange Server 2003 is also driving many migration plans, the survey also finds. About 16 percent cite this as their single main reason for moving, while a majority, 59 percent say this is a secondary reason.

Alleviating the reboot problems endemic with prior versions of Windows is driving many upgrade plans as well. More than eight percent say this is the single most important reason, and two-thirds cite this as a secondary reason. At least one respondent, however, cautions that Windows Server 2003 isn't entirely free of these problems, however. "Windows Server 2003 still appears to have memory and thread management problems," says the IT manager at a large financial services company. "We still have to reboot our Windows Server 2003 servers periodically, particularly after deploying security patches."

Even simple exasperation may be driving some respondents to move on to the next Windows upgrade. "We're tired of dealing with non-quality legacy Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 server, Microsoft MS-Exchange server problems," says another respondent.

Ranking surprisingly low in the list of priorities in migrating to Windows Server 2003 is the desire to more effectively implement Microsoft's .NET Framework-based Web services. Microsoft has positioned .NET as the cornerstone of its enterprise strategy going forward, but it appears more practical operational issues are driving Windows OS migrations. Only one company cited .NET as a primary reason for moving to the newer OS, and only 19 percent rank this feature as a secondary driver. Few, if any, Windows site managers are turning to Windows Server 2003 for 64-bit capabilities.

Other enterprise-class attributes – including logical partitioning, clustering and scalability – rank low on the priority list, but surface as secondary reasons.

Windows Server 2003 will mainly be deployed for tried-and-true Windows-style applications, not high-end enterprise functions.

To a large extent, Windows Server 2003 will be picking up the mantle of applications first deployed in Windows NT and carried forward to Windows 2000. Large majorities of respondents expect to be deploying such tried-and-true Windows functions as file-and-print functions, e-mail, and Web servers. A majority, 53 percent, also report they will be deploying Windows Server 2003 to support transactional databases.

Windows sites expecting to deploy applications traditionally associated with Unix or large legacy systems – including data warehouses and ERP systems – remain in the minority. While it remain to be seen how many and how fast large enterprise applications move to Windows, many respondents are satisfied with the enhanced features. "I do sleep better running enterprise applications with Windows Server 2003 than NT4," says the IT administrator at a large financial services organization.

Most Windows sites do not plan to grow beyond two-way multiprocessing.

Windows Server 2003 is touted to have multiprocessor scalability similar to that achievable through more high-end systems such as commercial Unix. The operating system supports ccNUMA (cache-coherent non-uniform memory allocation), which more tightly lashes memory resources within multiple processors into a single location.

However, most current and planned Windows Server 2003 sites do not plan to have boxes scaling beyond two-way configurations. (As noted above, scalability ranks relatively low as a reason for moving to 2003.) A majority, 51 percent, says their largest servers will support two-way systems, while another 34 percent plan to advance to four-way systems. While there is much discussion and new tools emerging to support Windows server implementations on eight-processor servers and higher, only 16 percent of sites in this survey plan such large systems. In fact, only two respondents (or 1.5 percent of the current or planned Windows Server 2003 sites) say they intend to eventually roll out a 32-way server.

Respondents have mixed opinions about how Windows Server 2003 compares to commercial Unix flavors in terms of overall scalability and system robustness. "It's real close," says the IT manager at a large East Coast university. "The stability isn't there yet but closing in quickly. The features, in our opinion, have outstripped Unix a long time ago. The basic management features are excellent and the added ones – such as MOM and SMS – are even better."

For most companies, Windows Server 2003 is an economical move.

Close to two out of five respondents, 37 percent report they expect to save money as a result of their Windows Server 2003 implementation. Companies aren't anticipating higher costs as a result, however – only 13 percent see increased spending brought on by the Windows Server 2003 implementation. Most IT directors do not see the migration process taking a huge bite out of their overall budgets, either. Eight out of ten say the process will consume less than a quarter of their IT dollars.

Many respondents were impressed with the new features included in Windows Server 2003, and were not shy about offering ideas for further improvements. "I like their approach of stripping down the base install, then letting the end user add components through Server Roles or other wizards," says the network administrator at a nonprofit organization. "Let's see more specific Server Roles that help to deploy faster. Give the wizards more branch possibilities with some real-world examples explaining what this option would/could do if chosen."

Still, another respondent, the senior system administrator at a large state government agency, remarks, "There are too many interdependencies between components. It is both an OS and an environment. I can't easily build in only what I need."

Some respondents say that Microsoft is too focused on simplifying the front-end interfaces rather than putting more into the technology underpinning the system. For example, the systems administrator at a medium-size manufacturer urges Microsoft to "continue the development focuses and directions of NT4 and 5 (Windows 2000) to technological advancements, instead of moving to become a quasi-Macintosh server."

Another respondent bemoaned the consumer-friendly features that are still included with the server operating systems. "Get rid of the 'Fischer-Price' interface, and get rid of the unnecessary parts of the "server" installations like Media Player," he said. "Who needs media player on a server?" One respondent simply asked that Microsoft provide "free Rolaids" with each server shipment.

Windows XP now dominates the client side, but companies are split on post-XP plans.

Almost half of the survey respondents, 49 percent, report that Windows XP is now their primary client operating system, making this the leading client OS in companies. Another 34 percent report that Windows 2000 Professional is their primary client-side operating system. About six percent report they are still depending on Windows 98 or 98 SE, and four percent use Windows NT 4.0 Workstation. About half of the companies surveyed report they still maintain these platforms as secondary operating systems.

It appears Linux has made some inroads into Windows shops as a secondary operating system, as cited by 30 percent of respondents. Another 20 percent of Windows shops also run Apple Mac OS-OSX clients.

More than eight out ten companies (83 percent) plan to support Windows XP Service Pack 2 – considered a major upgrade – when available. Companies are evenly split, however, over plans to move to Longhorn, the successor to Windows XP, which is now scheduled for release in early 2006. Four of ten respondents (42 percent) say they'll likely move client systems to Longhorn within a year of its release. Another 17 percent say they're likely to wait up to two years before moving to Microsoft's the next client operating system, and 34 percent plan to replace these systems through attrition.


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