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NT User Base Slowly But Surely Graduating to Active Directory

For four years, Microsoft has been trying to push its huge base of end-user sites off Windows NT 4.0 Server and onto a newer operating system powered by Active Directory. The software giant saw some success migrating sites to Windows 2000 Server platforms and now is attempting to encourage these companies to leapfrog to Windows Server 2003.

Recent survey research by ENTmag.com is consistent with statements from Microsoft officials and industry analysts -- Active Directory is building significant momentum among the Windows user base.

The survey, conducted by ENTmag.com and Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine, covers 163 Windows sites. The survey finds 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. Just over half of the survey respondents (54 percent) indicate their move to Windows Server 2003 is either exclusively, or in part, to support Active Directory. 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 Active Directory as a secondary reason.

"With the release of Windows 2000 in the year 2000, it was difficult in the early timeframe to find a customer who had Active Directory deployed. Today, it's actually flipped. It's difficult to find an enterprise that is not using Active Directory in some shape or form," says Michael Stephenson, group product manager in Microsoft's Windows Server Group.

"The majority of enterprises tell us that they store the majority of their users in Active Directory. We believe that today in the enterprise, more customers will have AD deployed than not have it deployed," Stephenson says.

IDC analyst Al Gillen agrees that people are deploying Active Directory everywhere, but as an independent analyst, he sees pros and cons. "The problem is they still haven't brought all their systems over, and they're running mixed mode. And they may continue to do so for some time," Gillen says. Mixed mode deployments do not present end users with all the management power and other benefits of native Active Directory deployments.

The changes to Active Directory in Windows Server 2003 are most attractive to sites migrating directly from Windows NT, the ENTmag.com survey finds. There are still plenty of NT sites out there – the survey finds that 67 percent of Windows enterprise sites still run NT. One out of seven sites, 15 percent, consider NT to still be their primary OS platform. Microsoft has actively been trying to move end-users to either Windows 2000 or 2003, and offers migration tools to enable Active Directory installations.

Three-quarters of the sites coming over from NT report that Active Directory is driving this migration. Almost a quarter of these sites, 22 percent, say that AD is the primary motivator, and 52 percent say AD is one of the secondary reasons. By contrast, 45 percent of Windows 2000 sites and 18 percent of other platforms say AD is a reason to move to Windows Server 2003.

"The reason we moved to Windows 2003 was to implement Active Directory," says Pete Charles, software support manager for Schwans Consumer Brands UK Limited. However, he notes, the implementation process is "still a challenge and requires significant planning. But once that part is out of the way it's pretty much plain sailing." He notes that some of Microsoft's Active Directory administration tools are "clunky to say the least."

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Many other respondents gave high marks to Microsoft's migration tools in helping them make the move from NT or 2000 to Server 2003. "We don't foresee any issues with migrating to Active Directory on 2003 from Windows NT 4 or from Windows 2000," says Jason A. Kinder, CNE, MCSE, a network analyst for evolServ Technologies. "Our migration from NT 4 was made fairly seamless using the AD Migration Tool, and it's going to be an even easier process migrating from a Windows 2000 AD to a Windows Server 2003 AD." Kinder notes that he would like to see Active Directory incorporate "built-in remote control capabilities of end-user PCs or servers from within AD users and computers that utilize Remote Desktop or Remote Assistance."

"AD Migration Tool 2.0 seems better than before," says another respondent, whose company is undergoing a migration off Windows 2000 to 2003. "The improvements in Windows 2003 AD are another aspect. This is helping a restructuring of our Active Directory due to some spin-offs requiring migration of some organizational units to a separate forest."

Larger companies are more likely to see the value of moving to Windows Server 2003 to support Active Directory, the survey also finds. Almost half of companies with workforces exceeding 1,000 employees, 49 percent, cite AD as a reason to move to Windows Server 2003, compared with 32 percent of small companies with fewer than 100 employees.

Interestingly, while the process does require additional resources, adding Active Directory to the migration plan does not appear to add significantly to budgets. On the average, respondents report that they will likely spend about 19 percent of their IT budgets through the rollout period on Server 2003. This percentage holds across companies making the migration with Active Directory and those migrating for other reasons, the survey confirms.

However, building and managing the architecture does add a layer of new challenges. "Active Directory complicates my integration of PCs used to control instrumentation because of incompatible policies and security settings," says the IT director at a municipal water quality site in Long Island, New York. "We had to move some systems off the network as a result. Many AD features are completely useless due to the type of network we use."

Scott Bekker contributed to this report.

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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