For federal users, the OS outlook appears mixed

For federal users, the OS outlook appears mixed

By Richard W. Walker

GCN Staff

Which operating systems will be the big players on agency LANs in two years? A GCN Reader Survey asked network administrators and systems managers about their plans and got a glimpse of the OS in the near future.



As might be expected, almost half of the managers whose servers run Microsoft Windows NT, the dominant server OS in GCN's LAN survey at 67 percent of the installed base, expected to migrate in the next 24 months to Windows 2000 Server. And about half expected to still be using NT in two years, the survey revealed.

But 13 percent anticipated migrating to Unix or Linux, or using those operating systems for special-purpose networks in addition to NT or Win 2000. Because some managers expected to be running multiple OSes, the tallies from their responses exceed 100 percent.

Similarly, about 60 percent of those using Novell NetWare, which had the No. 2 installed base at 30 percent, expected to stick with NetWare. Others planned to move to NT (20 percent), Win 2000 (20 percent), Unix (7 percent) or Linux (7 percent), either as a sole platform or in addition to NetWare.

Most users of Unix, (91 percent), the third most widely used OS in the survey, planned to stay with Unix, the survey found. A few expect to migrate to Win 2000 or NT.

Among current NT users, Gerson Grosfeld, manager of the Federal Aviation Administration's operations research computer laboratory, whose small LAN runs NT 4.0, is gearing up for eventual migration to Win 2000. He's been testing a pre-release version of Win 2000 on one system in the lab and said: So far, so good.

'There are things I like about 2000,' he said. 'The main thing is the plug-and-play [capability], because in the computer lab, where we have an assortment of hardware and peripherals, the biggest problem is getting NT up and then getting all the drivers right. NT doesn't go out and see all the plug-and-play devices, so you either have to add third-party software or you have to surf the Net looking for the vendors and try to download the appropriate drivers.'

Not the same

It's been a different story with Win 2000. 'The thing I noticed about 2000 is when I brought up the pre-release version, it found all the peripherals and I didn't have to do anything except click OK,' he said.

The downside of Win 2000 Server is that 'there seems to be a fair amount of overhead,' he said. 'Almost everything seems to take longer than NT 4.0. But then, we have some old systems in the lab, which I'm hoping to also upgrade this year. It's clear in my mind that I can't take my old 133-MHz and 166-MHz Pentiums and throw Windows 2000 at them and expect to get any kind of decent response.'

At the Navy's Personnel Support Activity unit in Puget Sound, Wash., Randy Fix, director of information systems, has set up a test lab for Win 2000, as well as the client version, Win 2000 Professional, 'to find out what the migration issues are going to be.'

'We're testing it in our current environment to see what pitfalls we're possibly going to run into and what the impact on our business will be if we make such a move,' he said. 'Then we'll base our decision on when, how or if we even [migrate to Win 2000] on what we get out of the test.'

Some NT users are apprehensive about migrating to Win 2000.

'We use a lot of legacy applications here, written back in the MS-DOS code base,' said Brian Milby, director of the automated information systems department at the Navy's Supply Corps School in Athens, Ga. 'There's some concern, especially for 2000 Professional clients, about that software being able to run properly.'


''The GCN Reader Survey is designed to provide data on computer and communications trends, technologies and product preferences.

This survey on LAN technologies and operating systems was part of a questionnaire mailed to federal readers of GCN who on their subscription application forms identified themselves as operations managers, network or systems administrators, or users of network products. GCN received 91 responses to this part of the questionnaire.


Milby's department has not made any concrete plans to migrate to Win 2000, he said. 'I just expect that the Navy is going to make its transition to 2000 [in the next two years], and we'll be forced to go along.'

Tim Dubois, information resources manager at the Coast Guard Training Center in Yorktown, Va., is worried about the high number of bugs ru-mored to be in Win 2000.

'It seems to me, particularly, with NT working well, that it would be a risky venture to upgrade,' he said. 'I think the question needs to be asked: why am I upgrading something that works?'

Other feds said they might abandon the Microsoft OS platform, at least in part.

The Energy Department's Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago is assessing a partial move from NT to Linux, said Dennis Tussing, the lab's manager of data administration.

The lab's operations LAN may stick with NT, but its scientific network may migrate to Linux, he said. Argonne's scientific users are looking for the stability and reliability that Linux offers, Tussing said.

Double dose

In the computer-aided engineering shop at the Naval Sea Systems Command in Arlington, Va., systems administrator William Horniman has NetWare and NT on two networks. a LAN running NT links the computer-aided design machines while NAVSEA's network uses NetWare.

'We get e-mail and everything else on the Novell side of the house,' he said.

NetWare will continue as the LAN OS for NAVSEA, while Horniman plans to upgrade the CAD network to Win 2000 within two years. he has met a few bumps in beta testing Win 2000.

'We've had some problems with video cards,' he said. 'We drive the cards we use with the computer-aided stuff a little harder so it may just be the way we were doing it, plus the fact that the manufacturers of our cards didn't really have Win 2000 drivers for it. Once we get the real drivers, a lot of those problems should disappear.'

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