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One Year on the Market: Windows 2000 Rocket Ready to Take Off

Stephen Swoyer

Windows 2000 was one of the most successful product launches in the history of Microsoft Corp. from a technical perspective. Most companies that have deployed it report being satisfied with its reliability, stability, security, and scalability.

But for a variety of reasons, many more IT organizations are still waiting - now a year since its launch - to deploy Windows 2000.

One satisfied Windows 2000 customer, Edward Ko, network coordinator at Pennsylvania State University's (PSU) College of Communications, says he knew Microsoft's Windows 2000 operating system was a different kind of product from the start.

"I had a lot of experience testing the Release Candidates, from RC1 on up through RC3," Ko says. "Even with RC1, it became clear to me that Windows 2000 was a pretty solid product, and that it was an improvement over NT 4.0."

Because of his experience with the Release Candidates, Ko says he was able to get a head start deploying Windows 2000 throughout each of the computer labs he manages. Moreover, he had no compunctions about replacing existing Windows NT 4.0 systems in those labs.

"I took out everything NT 4.0 during June and July - although that was after I'd been running it on some test systems since September '99," he explains.

Ko's case is special, however. Because PSU has an academic-site license agreement with Microsoft, he acknowledges that he could deploy Windows 2000 Professional and Windows 2000 Server without regard for budgetary considerations.

IT managers in most other organizations, however, haven't been quite so enthusiastic about adopting Windows 2000 - for budgetary and other reasons. It's no secret that throughout most of 2000, shipments of Windows 2000 lagged behind Microsoft's expectations.

"We have consistently indicated in our earnings release that during the course of the year, customers have predictably moved through design and deployment in their adoption of Windows 2000," explains Bob O'Brien, group product manager for Windows 2000 Server at Microsoft. O'Brien points to data from market research firm IDC, among others, as proof of Windows 2000's success.

Yes, Microsoft has sold a lot of Windows 2000 licenses. In the fourth quarter of 2000, for example, IDC estimates that Redmond shipped 1.7 million more copies of Windows 2000 than of Windows NT. Microsoft made its first public statement on shipments of Windows 2000 servers in February with the announcement that it would exceed one million servers shipped that month. While Redmond isn't saying how many total copies of Windows 2000 Professional and servers combined are out there, industry observers estimate somewhere from 12-14 million licenses have sold.

Analysts say the slow up-tick in Windows 2000 Server and Windows 2000 Advanced Server shipments can be attributed to the next-generation operating systems' added sophistication - especially when Active Directory is factored into the equation. Because of the complexity of features such as Active Directory, experts caution that deployment requires substantially more planning and testing than a rollout of Windows NT 4.0's more conventional domain infrastructure. Some industry watchers - including Thomas Bittman, analyst at GartnerGroup - expect the long lead time to improve with time. After all, IT organizations have had a year to plan for Windows 2000 and Active Directory migrations, and IT personnel have become more acclimated to Windows 2000 and to Active Directory in the process.

"Windows 2000 Server deployments will continue at a gradual, pragmatic pace," Bittman said in a GartnerGroup research paper. "Experienced skills will become easier to find, and gains will be made at the very high end, thereby giving this software more credibility with conservative technology adopters."

That said, there is a substantial body of opinion that Microsoft has fumbled in its marketing of Windows 2000. After years of delays, the product shipped right after the most concentrated effort in IT's history - Y2K preparations. IT managers seemed to have been looking for a breather, not a complex new product rollout.

Then, not four months after the February launch of what it had been calling its most important product to date, Microsoft threw the industry a curve by unveiling its .NET initiative. The .NET initiative immediately became top priority at Microsoft, and made Windows 2000 and the related 2000 series of enterprise software, which had not been released, seem outdated. A lot of tea leaf reading followed the late 2000 departure of Jim Ewel, the former head of marketing for Windows 2000. Whether he left amicably or not, his departure was widely interpreted as a sign of official Redmond's unhappiness with Windows 2000 uptake.

Now much of Microsoft's considerable marketing weight is focused on beta releases of its next operating system, Windows XP. The operating system combines the Windows 9x and Windows NT code bases to create a more stable client operating environment for consumers. Microsoft plans to release the client version in the fall. Business SKUs of Windows XP will come in 32- and 64-bit versions. The next generation of servers, code-named Whistler, are supposed to be finished near the end of the year.

Some users, such as Benjamin Zachary, senior network engineer at Advanced PC Solutions, have been using Active Directory and Windows 2000 Advanced Server-specific features, such clustering and network load-balancing, almost from the get-go with little or no problem.

"We are very happy with the stability and the robustness of the AD [Active Directory] structures, and with the load-balancing availability of the Advanced Servers," he says. Zachary says his company was performing full-scale Windows 2000 migrations for its clients as early as February 2000. "Whether it be clustering, adapter teaming, or simply moving the AD structure around to better benefit the WANs, we're very pleased with it."

It didn't help Windows 2000's deployment prospects any that the specter of a forthcoming Service Pack (SP) release - in this case, SP1 - was hanging above it from the beginning. Both GartnerGroup and IDC advised clients to wait at least until the release of SP1 - which both firms expected would ship with a number of anticipated bug fixes - before deploying Windows 2000.

This advice didn't wash with early adopters like PSU's Ko, however. He points to Microsoft's spotty Service Pack record as a potential problem area: SP2 for Windows NT 4.0, for instance, was a complete disaster.

"Why should I delay my Windows 2000 rollout for another six months just so that I could test SP1 to make sure that it didn't have any problems of its own?" he asks. "I knew that Windows 2000 was stable and reliable, I had tested it for almost a year. Advice like that just didn't influence me."

Organizations that have started or completed their Windows 2000 rollouts generally say they are doing so to redress the shortcomings of Windows NT 4.0. A recent ENT survey of 721 readers showed that many cited improved reliability, manageability, and reduced reboots as major reasons for moving to Windows 2000.

Other users, such as John Harris, manager for laboratory resources at USi Engineering Group, decided to follow the analysts advice and delay Windows 2000 deployments until after the release of a demonstrably stable SP1.

"We are still testing Windows 2000, [and] are not planning to roll it out to the corporate users until after SP1," he says. Harris and USi still haven't completed a migration to Windows 2000.

With Windows 2000, Microsoft talked about a regular schedule of Service Packs about every six months. Service Pack 2 slipped from that loose schedule, as it had not been released by early March. The code was close to finished, however, because documentation for hotfixes in late February stated that they would not be incorporated into a Service Pack until SP3.

Another factor, and by no means the least of reasons for the delayed embrace, is that many IT organizations were hampered by the lack of available applications written for Windows 2000 - especially new versions of the server suites that constitute Microsoft's BackOffice/.NET family of products. This was a slow process: In late September, Microsoft rolled out Exchange 2000, SQL Server 2000, and Host Integration Server 2000; the company only recently shipped Application Server 2000. Most users probably won't get a sense for the kinds of benefits that .NET enterprise servers running on Windows 2000 can provide until mid-2000, analysts suggest.

"It's going to take some time before customers move from the planning stages to the deployment of these new .NET applications," says Rob Enderle, vice president at Giga Information Group.

The Active Directory still has few applications written specifically to take advantage of it. To date, the most important Active Directory-dependent application is Exchange 2000. Given the recent release date for Exchange, deployment remains rare.

Most applications that worked on Windows NT also work on Windows 2000, but Microsoft created a higher bar for its application certification logo program. Applications that earn the Certified for Windows 2000 logo must take advantage of many Windows 2000 features and prove stable in testing labs run by Veritest, a unit of Lionbridge that is partnered with Microsoft for the program. As the Windows 2000 anniversary passed, Veritest was approaching 200 certified applications. The bulk of the applications are certified for Windows 2000 Professional. About 68 applications were posted to the Veritest site as passing the Server test, 15 applications passing the Advanced Server test, and five passing the Datacenter Server test.

Datacenter Server, Microsoft's high-end version of Windows 2000, is slowly proving itself in terms of scalability. The operating system is closely associated with Unisys' CMP systems, which are the only servers currently capable of exploiting its 32-processor capability. Unisys and Microsoft have demonstrated applications running on all 32 processors, an important scalability proof point.

Unisys also recently ran an SAP benchmark on a 16-processor system, the first industry standard benchmark of the combination (see related story on page 1). Unisys has shipped about 320 CMP servers so far.

ENT recently interviewed several users of Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, and found that early adopters are primarily replacing growing Windows NT 4.0 systems or using Datacenter for new applications (see story).

Many of the highest profile deployments of Windows 2000 generally seem to be clean installations at new companies.

One company that got an early start using SQL Server 2000 in tandem with Windows 2000 was data outsourcing start-up digiMine Inc. Usama Fayyad, digiMine's president and CEO, says he was impressed with the results of his experience.

"We are amazed that we were able to build the company from almost nothing to a pretty successful Internet presence with a lot of customers in the space of four months," he says. "To be able to do it that quickly is a testament to the ease of configuration and management of Windows 2000 and SQL Server 2000."

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See ENT's Report Card for W2K at 6 months

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