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 6.0.

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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 ISP.

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 are huge."

Embracing Windows 2003
Also read:

Part 2: Moving 30 Remote Sites Running Windows NT

Part 3: A Cautious, Long-term Migration

Part 4: Moving a Global Firm from Windows NT

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.

About the Author

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.


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