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Yankee Group: Get the Lead Out in XP and .NET Migrations

It's no secret that many companies are holding off from migrating to the advanced features of Windows 2000, such as Active Directory, as well as to Windows XP on the client side. It also appears that companies will be slow on the uptake for migrating to Windows.NET as these server operating systems roll out. IT budgets are tight, and companies don't see the urgency to moving to new versions of Windows. However, companies that procrastinate on these migrations do so at their own peril, a Yankee Group analyst warned in a recent teleconference sponsored by the consultancy.

A survey of Windows NT sites, conducted by Yankee Group and SunBelt Software, finds that 80 percent of corporations are cautious and will defer upgrades until absolutely necessary, reports Laura DiDio, senior analyst with Yankee Group. “IT budgets remain tight, and many folks are electing to delay migrations,” says DiDio. “A lot of companies that have the money to migrate are really hoarding it and putting it off for a lot of reasons. Corporations are continuing to be extremely circumspect, and are opting to defer upgrades until it's absolutely necessary.”

But DiDio predicts that migrations will grow over the next six to 12 months for both client-side and server-side environments. This is due to the fact that the vast majority of Windows sites are still running legacy systems, she notes. The Yankee Group/SunBelt survey finds that 63 percent of corporate sites still run Windows NT Server 4.0 -- making the aging operating system still the largest block of server operating systems in corporate environments. Migration to Windows 2000 Professional is more advanced with up to 90 percent of respondents running this product on client machines. Remarkably, though, 70 percent still also run Windows NT Workstation 4.0, and 64 percent still run Windows 98. Most Windows XP users also indicate that XP is not the primary operating system within their environments, says DiDio.

This puts the vast majority of companies at great risk, since Microsoft will soon be phasing out support for many of these systems, DiDio warns. The Redmond-based software giant will be discontinuing support for Windows NT next March, and will likely discontinue service packs and enhancements for Windows 2000 Professional by the end of next year. By contrast, XP will be supported until 2005.

Windows.NET server is expected to ship late this year or early next year. An Active Directory upgrade – version 1.1 – is also expected to ship soon.

Many companies state that they will be sticking with Windows NT and 2000 Professional until well after support ends, DiDio observes. “That's fine, if you're willing to accept the risk,” she states. For example, security flaws may crop up in unsupported environments. For example, a security issue just arose with Office 97, which many companies still use, but is no longer supported with fixes or service packs. In addition, in today’s interconnected e-business economy, running unsupported software may have damaging repercussions for the business at large, according to DiDio. “The other risk you take is the liability that you may incur, if in the course of doing business you're running on one of these unsupported operating systems, and there's a problem that affects your clients, customers, and business partners,” she explains. “You could be sued for treble damages. So it's not just about your willingness to take the risk.”

Unfortunately, migrations to new versions of Windows can be more complicated than many companies expect. “Overall, the migrations are talking six to nine months longer than planned,” DiDio observes. “It's not just about the software. It's also doing hardware migrations, reviewing your storage, your bandwidth, your WAN link, replication, security, you name it.”

She adds that Yankee is finding that one out of five IT operations are simply running out of money before they can complete all phases of the migration. “Many companies are not doing enough due diligence with cost performance analysis and a through review of their infrastructure,” she says. “I am seeing very few, almost none in fact, companies who say that the migrations are coming in on time and under budget.”

DiDio recommends planning an extra three to six months for simple migrations, and “for every 3,000-5,000 folks in the organizations, especially those with remote geographically dispersed sites, add at least a quarter on to this.” The migrations are getting more complex as well, “involving sweeping infrastructure changes,” says DiDio. "People go into this with one idea in mind of what this is going to look like, and at least 25 percent end up with a completely different design.”

Training and retraining IT staff is essential to the process, DiDio emphasizes. DiDio advises companies to “beg, borrow, and steal and get those funds and get your people trained.” She observes extensive training will not be necessary for Windows XP Professional desktop deployments. But on the server side, especially when Windows.NET Server 2003 and Active Directory 1.1 ship, additional training of IT staff will be critical, she says.

Organizations need to be prepared wit the right levels of training to implement Active Directory or Windows.NET. “If there's any doubt in your mind at all, about whether or not you have enough money, and enough resources, and enough skills resources, delay the migration, because the risks are just too high,” DiDio warns.

The business case that can be made for moving to Windows.NET, XP, and Active Directory include faster system performance and less administrative overhead, DiDio relates. While the success of a migration depends on the implementation on newer, faster hardware, there are demonstrated performance improvements with Windows 2000 and XP, she notes, ranging up to 20 percent to 35 percent over previous versions of the OS.

Another benefit includes a potential reduction in help-desk support requirements. “You should be making a log of how much time your organization is spending answering help-desk calls on the desktop side,” says DiDio. “If you're still running Windows 95 and 98, I'm sure you will definitely see a reduction in calls to the help desk if you move to XP.”

"On the server side, the automated capabilities that you get with the Windows Installer, Intellimirror, Active Directory, enhanced TCP/IP support and better replication in Windows .NET will make life a lot simpler for your network administrator,” DiDio says. “The time to complete tasks in XP and .NET server will be about two-thirds less than in Windows NT and 9x environments.” Service Level Agreements will be better maintained as well.

Once XP and .NET are implemented, IT administrators will need to get busy in new areas, DiDio observes. “The routine management tasks associated with both XP Professional and Windows.NET Server do decrease visibly,” she says. “However, there is a commensurate increase in systems management tasks that have to do be done. The focus of your IT staff will be different.”

About the Author

Joe McKendrick is an independent consultant and author specializing in surveys, technology research and white papers. He's a contributing writer for ENTmag.com.

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