The key to successful migration is in the groundwork

The key to successful migration is in the groundwork

By Barry Nance
Special to GCN

Most of the work you'll do in migrating from Microsoft Windows NT to Windows 2000 will take place long before you insert the product's distribution CD-ROM in your computers.

By the time you get to that point, you will have made sure your application software runs successfully under Win 2000 and have checked Microsoft Corp.'s hardware compatibility list to determine if Win 2000 will run on your computers and support all your peripherals. You'll have verified software licenses and contracts, made backup copies of your data and made sure your backup and restore software works with Win 2000.

And you will have made plans for using Win 2000's Active Directory, Domain Naming System and Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, and you will have decided which of the operating system's features you want to install.

Only when all this is done will you begin installing the new operating system on your agency's computers.

At least, those are the steps you will take if you want to increase your chances of a trouble-free upgrade. Make no assumptions along the way. And don't skip a step.

Counting the cost

Research by the Meta Group Inc. of Stamford, Conn., concludes that migrating to Windows 2000 Professional, the desktop PC version of the new operating system, will typically cost at least $700 per PC. Depending on a host of factors, however, the costs could drop as low as $250 or go as high as $1,800 per machine.

The Giga Information Group of Cambridge, Mass., estimates that upgrading a 5,000-user network to Win 2000 Server would cost $107 per client (see story, Page 6).

Agencies with a well-managed PC environment who have upgraded hardware on a regular cycle will incur the lowest costs.

Organizations with lots of aging hardware will have to decide to either make one large capital outlay or change their infrastructures piece by piece.

Whether you have standard desktop configurations for all the computers in your office also is a big cost factor. Consistent, standard desktop PCs are easier, and thus faster and cheaper, to upgrade. If you think Win 2000 is in your future, you can start now to create a standard configuration that takes into account versions of operating systems, browsers, installed applications, hardware device drivers and Dynamic Link Libraries.


Theoretically, if a software application runs under NT, it ought to run under Win 2000. The only way to know for sure is to test it.

Before deciding to invest in Win 2000 for your servers and desktop PCs, get a copy for evaluation purposes and install it on a sufficiently powerful computer that no one is using. If you can't find an idle PC, it's worth buying one for the test. Identify all custom-written applications used in your office and verify that they behave well in the Win 2000 environment.

Hardware compatibility

Manufacturers of computers with Intel Corp. processors know their machines have to support Microsoft OSes, so virtually all computers sold today will run Win 2000.

Nevertheless, Microsoft's hardware compatibility list specifies a more powerful computer for Win 2000 than for NT. It also lets you know which peripheral devices Win 2000 does not support. For example, you may have trouble getting a DVD player, digital camera or Zip drive from Iomega Corp. of Roy, Utah, to work with Win 2000.

Windows 2000 Professional runs best on at minimum a 300-MHz Pentium II machine with 128M of RAM.

Microsoft, however, lists lower system requirements: a 133-MHz Pentium-compatible PC with 64M of RAM. You may only need to add memory chips to computers to ready them for Win 2000.

Like Windows 98, Win 2000 has Plug and Play hardware discovery and integration. Unfortunately, Win 2000 supports far fewer devices and hardware options than Win98.

For example, you may have trouble installing Win 2000 on servers that use old ISA cards'especially network adapters. Few old ISA cards are able to provide Plug and Play information during installation, and manually configuring these cards can be slow and difficult.

Win 2000 appears to run well enough on recent computers from manufacturers such as Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp., but it may behave strangely or fail to install on some clones, especially old ones.

When exiting the upgrade process on each server, workstation or PC on which it's being installed, Win 2000 helpfully displays a list of hardware that worked with NT 4.0 but may not work with Win 2000.

Backup and restore

Some backup and restore utilities probably won't work with Win 2000. You certainly don't want to install the operating system on all your computers and discover your data files are irretrievably lost.

Because Win 2000's file system choices are different from those of NT, you may even have to reformat each computer's hard disk during the installation process. Test your backup and restore utility software to make sure it works with Win 2000.

DNS, DHCP and Active Directory

If you already use the Domain Naming System and Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol at your site, you have a naming convention and IP address assignment scheme in place that will make the job of designing and deploying Active Directory much easier.

Distinguishing sites, assigning network attributes and choosing replication techniques is then a matter of entering the data into Win 2000, deciding on a replication schedule, setting up replication polling intervals and choosing how to assign link cost values. Win 2000 can populate its user database by importing a Windows NT 4.0 domain or other directory based on the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol.

If you're unfamiliar with DNS and DHCP, do the research to bring yourself up to speed with these technologies. Then craft a plan for using DNS and DHCP across your network.

If you have OSes from other manufacturers on some of your computers, you have extra work to do.

Servers running Novell NetWare and Unix cannot directly interface with Win 2000's Active Directory to obtain user identifications, passwords or file access permissions. You'll want to decide which of your various platforms serves up DNS and DHCP, and thus manages your network's naming conventions and IP address assignments.

Creating a good plan for the design of the Active Directory pays handsome dividends in user ID and group control, the key to Microsoft's IntelliMirror functionality for synchronizing documents and files among mobile users with notebook computers who dock and undock from the network.

Microsoft recommends having at least two domain controllers at each site. At sites that use a single domain controller, especially when that controller is also used as a router, users lose contact with the underlying network infrastructure if the domain controller fails.


Win 2000 contains a long list of features customers began asking for more than five years ago, such as more scalability, the advantages of Active Directory and power management for portable computers.

Making appropriate choices on how you will use Win 2000 in your enterprise network involves a considerable amount of research and planning. Keep in mind that the effect of choosing an inappropriate option can ripple across your network, far beyond the particular computer on which you install Win 2000.

Fortunately, while Microsoft has added numerous features to its latest OS, the company has simplified the installation process. If you know beforehand which options you'll choose, the upgrade will be quicker and less painful.

The default installation for Win 2000 Server does not automatically install the Active Directory service. This is OK for smaller networks, or those networks that aren't in immediate need of the Active Directory service. For enterprise networks, you should strongly consider invoking the Active Directory option.

It is Win 2000's most significant feature and a powerful incentive for deciding to upgrade at all.

Barry Nance, a computer analyst and consultant for 28 years, writes from Wethersfield, Conn., about information technology. E-mail him at [email protected].


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