Embracing Windows Server 2003: Moving 30 Remote Sites Running Windows NT
Part Two of this four-part series profiles an organization with 30 television stations across the country and 2,000-plus employees.
- By Linda Briggs
For Raycom Media, a critical application drove the decision to roll out the
new OS: Exchange Server 2003. For the company's 30 broadcast television stations
across the U.S., with 2,000-plus employees, Exchange is the mission-critical
application. Compelling new features in Exchange 2003 cemented the decision
to move from Exchange 5.5, and hence the move off of Windows NT 4.0.
Jim Upchurch is the manager of systems administration for Raycom, based in
Montgomery, Alabama. Upchurch's Windows Server 2003 rollout, which actually
began in fall 2001 as a Windows 2000 rollout, involved migrating all 30 local
TV stations across the U.S. The sites included 13 Exchange servers, 2,000 mailboxes,
and 110 servers filling other roles. The rollout consolidated the enterprise
from 25 NT domains and four peer-to-peer workgroups to a single consolidated
Windows 2003 domain.
The migration took two steps, beginning with an 18-month process that
proved to be the hardest, but most critical, part: Consolidation of all the
domains and workgroups into a single NT domain. The second step, an in-place
upgrade of the NT domain to a Windows 2003 Active Directory domain, was then
easy. The domain consolidation took 18 months—not because of its complexity,
but because of the logistics Upchurch and his team faced in traveling to each
of the 30 sites while still maintaining IS support duties in Montgomery.
Despite the time it took, consolidating first "was the most critical decision
we made," Upchurch says, and saved huge amounts of time later. He describes
a migration planning phase that was lengthy and critical, and included long
discussions about multi-domain forests vs. integrating and managing through
organizational units (OUs). But Upchurch realized from his copious readings
that they wanted to keep things as simple as possible, so they decided on a
single domain. "All the sources say that one of the keys is to use as few
domains as you can get away with, and one if possible. So we did."
Upchurch is proud of the fact that they conducted the entire migration without
third-party tools. "All the case studies that I read talked about third-party
tools," Upchurch says. Even the Microsoft Consulting Services representative
they called in at one point for a bid planned to use third-party tools. Eventually,
they declined that service as too costly and proceeded on their own.
At almost the last minute, when they were still planning to move to Win2K,
Windows 2003 shipped. They "took a big gulp and decided to go with it,"
Windows 2003 offered compelling reasons to jump over Win2K, including better
administration tools for AD—tools that are proving important now that he's
directly managing 2,000 user accounts. He also predicted that Win2K was going
to have a shorter lifespan than the long-lived NT.
|Raycom Media's Jim Upchurch, Manager for Systems
Administration; Tim Humphrey, System Administrator (seated); and
Lotte Hileman, System Administrator (Photo: Ivan Wright/Raycom
Gradually, over a year and a half, Upchurch or his assistants visited each
site. And with help from station IS managers, many of whom were principally
broadcast engineers, all stations were moved into a single domain. Most sites
had about a hundred seats, though the largest had 250. Under NT, four of the
sites were peer-to-peer workgroups; the remainder had their own domains, as
did corporate headquarters. Trust relationships connected those domains that
included Exchange servers; the rest were independent.
As they visited each site, Upchurch's team also installed and configured a
backup DC for the consolidated domain. That made the next step, the upgrade
to Windows 2003, "unbelievably easy," Upchurch says.
It helped that the company had purchased a new Dell PowerEdge server for each
site, along with an OS license. That allowed Upchurch to designate that server
as the site's domain controller (DC), free from file server, print server or
application server duties.
As the AD kickoff date approached, Upchurch installed a new desktop machine
at corporate headquarters and then, as he describes it, "made it a perfectly
clean NT 4.0 backup domain controller for the consolidated domain, which we
then promoted briefly to be the primary domain controller for that domain. We
then upgraded in place to Windows Server 2003, making the system briefly a Windows
Server 2003 hybrid domain. We then DCPROMO'ed two new Windows 2003 servers,
transferred the FSMO roles to them, DCPROMO'ed the former PDC down to a member
server, removed it from the network, and shipped it off to do other things."
The entire process worked beautifully, Upchurch remembers, and took just a few
In the beginning, migrating a 100-workstation TV station to another domain,
including user accounts, mailboxes, servers, user profiles, and more, took close
to 12 hours. As Upchurch's team developed procedures, that dropped to five or
so hours of steady teamwork. His objective at each station: Make the migration
as invisible as possible from the user's point of view, and complete it in a
single overnight visit so that business wasn't disrupted.
Not for Lack of Info
One challenge they've faced: Lots of information on Windows 2003 isn't
yet in Microsoft's Knowledge Base. Answers sometimes still refer to Win2K; he's
often not sure if they can be extrapolated to Windows 2003 or not.
Upchurch's advice in retrospect: Don't be scared off by the huge amount of
planning that all the migration books seem to recommend. "If you're familiar
with your network and experienced with NT and Exchange, you certainly have to
plan, but don't think you have to spend the next three years [on it.]"
Tomorrow we profile a Canadian's firm's on-going, cautious efforts to evaluate
the new platform for its truly mission-critical 24x7 environment.
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.