Rolling with Windows 2000: the fun begins

With Windows 2000 finally here, some brave souls will want to implement it straight away. Danny Bradbury provides a step-by-step...

With Windows 2000 finally here, some brave souls will want to implement it straight away. Danny Bradbury provides a step-by-step guide

So, you have decided to be an early adopter, and implement Windows 2000 as soon as it emerges on to the market. Good for you. The product offers some exciting new features that will provide business benefits if implemented correctly. Rolling the software out, however, is not so much a no-brainer as a potential headache.

The enhanced features within the product make it much more complex than Windows NT, making intelligent planning and competent systems design much more important than before. Indeed, Microsoft has created a whole new exam specifically focusing on systems design for those IT professionals wishing to become MCSE certified in Windows 2000.

The nature of the installation will depend on the length of your business cycle. If you need to meet some business objectives very quickly, then you will need an implementation model. Such a model may dispense with some of the more advanced features within Windows 2000 that are not critical to your business, leaving them until later.

Another implementation model may involve running Windows 2000 in parallel to existing NT4 systems. A company may do this because it needs a specific Windows 2000 feature at a single point in the organisation or because it prefers to install the new system in stages rather than rolling it out as part of a big-bang process. As different parts of an organisation have their own business cycles, this bit-by-bit implementation may be more appropriate for larger companies anyway.

Microsoft offers a full implementation guide called the Enterprise Services Framework (ESF), comprising three sub-frameworks. These are the Microsoft Readiness Framework (MRF), which advises on pre-deployment preparation, the Microsoft Solutions Framework (MSF), and finally the Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF), which deals with the management of a deployed system. The first two are particularly relevant to businesses and their steps are listed here, with additional input from organisations that have already implemented.

Six of the best - top tips for successful implementation

  • Align your business objectives with those of the IT department
  • If you are implementing Active Directory, make sure that you plan your domain structure well ahead
  • Balance the technology features you need with the speed of the implementation cycle - don't install unnecessary things that will slow you down
  • Pilot the system with a core base of selected users before rolling it out
  • Make sure that you have an inventory of your system before you begin
  • Conduct a proper gap analysis - find out what applications you need to upgrade to take advantage of the features that you are installing within Windows 2000
  • Four steps to preparing the Windows 2000 roll-out

    Characterised by Microsoft's MRF document as an assessment of what you have, this process involves an organisational review from a political perspective. Key things to find out here include the competency of IT staff, the extent to which the business managers and IT team have been able to establish a common set of objectives, and the commitment that the organisation has to the project.

  • Align Business and IT objectives
  • Before you embark on an implementation, you should be sure that you understand why you are doing it. It is, therefore, important to get your business managers and technical staff to establish a unified set of goals. Juliet Camp, a solutions consultant at third-party consultancy OS Integration, agrees. She has been working with Windows 2000 extensively for one of her clients and must have 500 end-users rolled out by 1 June.

    It is important to find out what the company's business objectives are, she says. This will affect issues such as the location of the initial deployment and the extent of that deployment.

  • Assessment
  • The assessment phase involves drawing up an inventory of hardware and applications. This enables the company to plan for hardware and application upgrades, which also means that the IT department can present a more accurate cost estimate to the board.

    One particularly good reason for an inventory assessment at this point is that Windows NT often gets deployed from a bottom-up perspective, explains Dale Gardner of network directory management firm Entevo, which is producing directory management tools for Windows 2000.

    NT is so accessible that people can deploy applications locally, without the administrator's knowledge. This creates an inventory problem that needs to be addressed before the system can be planned. You need to know whether existing applications can be upgraded, and whether there is enough memory to do so, for example.

    Many organisations will already have documented their environments as part of the millennium compliance process, which should give them a head start.

  • Formulate the plan
  • Once you have worked out what you want and what you have, you need to work out how to get from one point to the other. Do you need to change any of the business processes to make the implementation more realistic? How will you get your skills level to the point where you can implement the project successfully?

  • Document the plan
  • Now put it all in writing. You have figured out where you are and where you want to get to, but the outcome of the migration plan needs to be quantified with deadlines and performance indicators so that things run smoothly. This way, you will be able to assess the success of the project when it is completed.

    Four steps to planning and building your Windows 2000 roll-out

    Once the preparation phase of the implementation has been completed, you can move into the planning and building stage which, like the preparation stage, has four distinct elements. During this process, the roll-out team moves from a more abstract, organisational approach to a more detailed set of procedures.

  • Envisioning
  • The first phase of the planning and building stage involves project scoping. The implementation team has to consider aspects such as risk management and user profiles during this process, making itself more aware of what could go wrong, and how to prevent it.

  • Planning
  • The envisioning phase will get the team to the point where it is able to produce a draft specification for the system, along with a roll-out plan including schedules for live implementation of different parts of the infrastructure. Other elements to consider during this part of the project include procurement plans - who are you going to buy physical resources from, and how much are they going to cost? How much are you going to train implementation staff and end-users, and how much are you going to outsource? How are you going to implement security within Windows 2000, such as PKI and Kerberos authentication, if at all?

    Modelling involves creating a design for your new system. In addition to designing your architecture, you also have to design the administration process.

  • Developing
  • Before any system is implemented you need to pilot it to ensure that it works properly. During this phase, in which you will actually construct server and client builds and test out applications on them, you will need to gather feedback from a core base of end-users.

    This phase could also be used to find any benefits in the proposed design and any potential improvements in the roll-out process. Juliet Camp of OS Integration says this is the time to test out anything you're not sure about. There are a lot of documents on designing group policy from Microsoft, for example, but she adds that there are many real-life examples to back up those documents. "We have been advised to test things out ourselves," she says, describing her dialogue with Microsoft.

  • Deployment
  • This is it - the point at which you take the findings from the pilot and implement the technology across the entire target user base. At the end of this phase, the end-users should be happy with the result, and the administration and support function should kick in. You have done your job. Now, once you have completed a project review and conducted an end-user satisfaction survey, you can fly off to the French Riviera for that well-earned holiday.

    Basic Windows 2000 implementations provide a foundation upon which to build more advanced features, says Camp. She is now evaluating more advanced native Windows 2000 virtual private network technologies to replace what her customer is paying third-party suppliers for. Such features include Com+ and MTS, alongside active directory integration and client-side caching.

    Getting schooled in skills

    Ensuring that you have the necessary skills within your organisation to implement Windows 2000 is vital. There is nothing to stop you training your staff or recruiting contractors to fill the gap, but make sure that you have the financial resources to do so.

    Mark Johnson, platforms manager at Compaq, advises customers to seek consultancy help when implementing these systems. Customers need to make the transition between an overtly physical model to a logical one, replete with organisational units.

    "Anything to do with the directory is foreign to most customers," he says. Key issues that consultants need to deal with include the move from the Windows protocols to the domain naming protocol.

    Certification requirements under Windows 2000 differ significantly, says Pat Larkin senior IT consultant for computer-based training company SmartForce. Under NT4, Microsoft focused on installation and administration, but different skills requirements have been added to the early versions of the official curriculum.

    One big addition to the qualification requirements is design and architecture skills, which mirror the introduction of Active Directory. The group policy features will be put together under a configuration management heading. Microsoft has also brought security design and implementation into play. Trainees will have to learn these areas in addition to installation and administration.

    The company is experiencing major demand from early adopters, says Larkin. A significant base of people has been schooled in design already, he says. (Microsoft confirms that it has trained 6,000 people in Windows 2000-specific implementation issues.) But of course, demand will grow significantly now the product has shipped.

    Moving to Active Directory

    Pay particular attention to the Active Directory network infrastructure in Windows 2000 when planning your system, says Morgan Stern, technical program head at Lucent Netcare.

    The first step in moving to the hierarchical model is to examine both the network structure and the organisational structure of the business. "Then we take a look at requirements and talk to the business managers, network managers and the end-user community," he says.

    Now that Windows 2000 is integrated with DNS, there needs to be a lot more interaction between different groups in the IT department. Stern says, "They have to come to terms with issues that are particularly sensitive before they can implement." Microsoft takes advantage of newer DNS features such as dynamic updates. Older versions of Bind don't support some of these features, and these issues must be reconciled.

    Organisations are taking one of two approaches in network migration. The first approach involves server upgrades where individual servers are upgraded individually. The domain controller would be upgraded first, and then other servers upgraded later. That works well for smaller organisations, and enables you to better back out of an upgrade scenario that goes wrong, but it means that they are migrating their NT domain structure to Windows 2000, says Stern. The other technique involves the migration of groups of end-users and resources into an Active Directory structure. The downside of this is that it is more resource-intensive because you're running parallel environments.

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