Windows Server 2003 Gains Traction

The Windows Server 2003 rollout is rapid, according to a new survey. Key drivers are security, Active Directory and Exchange 2003.

Growing requirements around security, Active Directory and Exchange Server are propelling widespread adoption of Windows Server 2003, according to a new joint survey of and Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine readers. Six out of 10 Windows sites are already in some stage of rolling out Microsoft's latest server operating system.

But most Windows Server 2003 migrations are focused on practical front-end or departmental functions in the enterprise, such as Web serving, e-mail and file/print services. Only a limited segment of companies plan to deploy high-end enterprise applications such as ERP or data warehouses on Windows 2003. And only a handful of organizations are considering moving to 64-bit versions of the operating system. Also notable is the scant consideration being given to enhancing Web services capabilities. Despite the enormous industry attention being devoted to Web services, Microsoft's .NET Framework isn't even a blip on the radar screen for many IT shops making or considering the move to Windows 2003.

The survey covers a range of companies and industries from mainly across North America and finds rapid adoption of the new OS taking place.

The Survey in Full has the complete survey results in a more extensive report than you'd see here; click here to view it.

Most Windows shops are now in the process of moving at least some applications to Windows Server 2003. The only companies holding back are those that just completed a move to Windows 2000.

The survey of 163 IT managers and executives confirms that 60 percent of Windows sites either already have Windows 2003 in production or plan to do so very soon. As shown in Table 1, one in six companies currently has the OS in production, and 43 percent have migrations in progress.

Another 20 percent of Windows shops aren't ready to commit to a timeline for Windows 2003, but say they'll deploy the new OS on a case-by-case basis as older applications are replaced. The survey also finds that among the 20 percent of companies that don't have any plans to migrate, more than a third say it's because they've just completed a migration to Win2K.

Once the migration process is underway, respondents plan to ramp up to Windows 2003 fairly quickly across their enterprises. Currently, 63 percent of companies in the survey report that more than half their servers are running Win2K, as shown in Table 2. Within a year, a majority, 52 percent, expect to be running Windows 2003 on most of the servers across their enterprises.

Windows 2003 Migration Plans
Table 1. Migration Plans


Windows Server 2003 Editions
Table 2. Windows Server 2003 Editions

Most enterprises are moving to Windows Server 2003 for new security, e-mail and Active Directory features. Few are attracted to 2003 for its .NET capabilities, however.

In an era of rampant viruses, worms and hacking incidents, security is driving many migration efforts to Windows 2003. Windows platforms and applications have been a highly publicized target for malicious code writers, bringing Microsoft considerable pressure to deliver more secure systems and a more manageable approach to patches and updates.

In the survey, security is cited as one of the top three leading reasons for migrating to Windows 2003, with almost one-sixth of the group, 16 percent, calling it the primary driver for moving to Windows 2003 (see Table 3). A large majority, 77 percent, cite security as a secondary reason for deploying Windows 2003. New security features in Windows Server 2003 include a Local Security Authority, new Local Service and Network Service accounts, credential caching for alternate names and passwords and better protection of cryptographic elements from unauthorized password resets.

Active Directory, a key component of the Windows 2003 security infrastructure, was itself another key factor cited in migration plans. Microsoft's latest version of Active Directory features the ability to store up to a billion objects, multiple domain controllers, better replication engine performance, and trusts that interface with multiple domains. About one out of six respondents, 17 percent, indicate they're moving to Windows 2003 to take advantage of Microsoft's directory services (Table 4), while 37 percent cite this as a secondary reason.

The need to upgrade to Exchange Server 2003 is also driving many migration plans, the survey finds. About 16 percent cite this as their single main reason for moving, while a majority, 59 percent, list it as a secondary reason.

Alleviating the reboot problems endemic with prior versions of Windows is driving many upgrade plans as well. More than eight percent say this is the single most important reason, and two-thirds cite this as a secondary reason. At least one respondent, however, cautions that Windows 2003 isn't entirely free of these problems. "Windows Server 2003 still appears to have memory and thread management problems," said the IT manager at a large financial services company. "We still have to reboot our Windows Server 2003 servers periodically, particularly after deploying security patches."

Ranking surprisingly low in the list of priorities in migrating to Windows 2003 is the desire to more effectively implement Microsoft's .NET Framework-based Web services. Microsoft has positioned .NET as the cornerstone of its enterprise strategy going forward, but it appears more practical operational issues are driving Windows OS migrations. Only one company cited .NET as a primary reason for moving to the newer OS, and only 19 percent rank this feature as a secondary driver.

Few, if any, Windows site managers are turning to Windows 2003 for 64-bit capabilities.

Other enterprise-class attributes — including logical partitioning, clustering and scalability — rank low on the priority list and only surface as secondary reasons.

Top 10 Reasons to Move
Table 3. The Top Reasons for Moving to Windows Server 2003


More reasons to move...
Table 4. Secondary Reasons for Moving to Windows 2003 Server

Windows Server 2003 will mainly be deployed for tried-and-true Windows-style applications, not high-end enterprise functions.

To a large extent, Windows 2003 will be picking up the mantle of applications first deployed in Windows NT and carried forward to Win2K. Large majorities of respondents expect to be deploying such tried-and-true Windows functions as file-and-print functions, e-mail, and Web servers. A majority, 53 percent, also report they'll be deploying Windows 2003 to support transactional databases.

As Table 5 shows, those Windows sites expecting to deploy applications traditionally associated with Unix or large legacy systems — including data warehouses and ERP systems — remain in the minority. While it remains to be seen how many, and how fast, large enterprise applications move to Windows, many respondents are satisfied with the enhanced features. "I do sleep better running enterprise applications with Windows Server 2003 than NT 4," said the IT administrator at a large financial services organization.

Apps running Windows Server 2003
Table 5. Apps Running on Windows Server 2003

Most Windows sites do not plan to grow beyond two-way multiprocessing.

Windows 2003 is touted to have multiprocessor scalability similar to that achievable through more high-end systems such as commercial Unix. The operating system supports ccNUMA (cache-coherent non-uniform memory allocation), which more tightly lashes memory resources within multiple processors into a single location.

However, most current and planned Windows 2003 sites don't plan to have boxes scaling beyond two-way configurations. (As noted above, scalability ranks relatively low as a reason for moving to Windows 2003.) A majority, 51 percent, say their largest servers will support two-way systems, while another 34 percent plan to advance to four-way systems. While there's much discussion and new tools emerging to support Windows server implementations on eight-processor servers and higher, only 16 percent of sites in this survey plan such large systems. In fact, only two respondents (or 1.5 percent of the current or planned Windows 2003 sites) say they intend to eventually roll out a 32-way server (Table 6).

Processor Configs
Table 6. Largest Windows Server 2003 SMP Processor Configurations

Respondents have mixed opinions about how Windows Server 2003 compares to commercial Unix flavors in terms of overall scalability and system robustness. "It's real close," said the IT manager at a large East Coast university. "The stability isn't there yet but closing in quickly. The features, in our opinion, [outstripped those of] Unix a long time ago. The basic management features are excellent and the added ones — such as MOM and SMS — are even better."

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


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