The move to Windows 2003 is part of a larger plan to replace 10-year-old legacy systems that are expensive to maintain.
The business goal is to allow customer self-service, said Duncan Scott, vice-president for information services at Sea Containers. "We want to give customers control of where and when they lease containers."
The company plans to move the whole business onto a shared-service model replacing NT 4.0 and VMS systems with Windows 2003 running applications based on Microsoft Visual Studio .net and Microsoft Biztalk Server.
The migration of 10 NT domains into an Active Directory "forest" - the highest level of abstraction in the directory structure - marks the key first stage in the project, which is about 10% of the way through and is due for completion by the end of the year.
The migration of more than 100 Sea Containers companies from diverse legacy environments to a single infrastructure based on Windows 2003, Active Directory and .net will see the company make huge savings as it eases the management of its IT systems and smoothes customer interaction by introducing .net-driven web-based services.
Infrastructure project manager Anton Pararajasingam said, "We have been able to move from a situation where Sea Containers companies were autonomous to one where we have brought everything into the same security boundary in a directory service for the entire organisation."
Already this has allowed cost-saving changes in the IT organisation. Where previously all helpdesk calls were fielded by the UK office, IT administration functions can now be devolved down through the Active Directory structure.
"Forty two per cent of calls were password resets. We have given this function to local 'office champions' and have saved the cost of those calls straight away," said Pararajasingam.
The company has chosen .net as the means of web-enabling its container-leasing business GESeaCo. At present the business is largely paper-based but the plan is to web-enable it with Microsoft technology, which will give customers the ability to organise the movement of containers and the company the ability to predict patterns of business and move containers around the world in the most efficient way.
In December the new infrastructure was rolled out to 600 staff at the company's London offices, where Compaq servers have replaced legacy VMS machines. It will take another year to roll out Active Directory to all the company's offices worldwide.
Sea Containers chose the Active Directory 2003 infrastructure because it allowed it to establish the forest and then populate it with directory trees in a piecemeal fashion. Pararajasingam, said, "Each of the companies in the Sea Containers group has its own IT infrastructure and applications. We have ended up with different versions of products managed by the companies' own IT people. We decided to use Active Directory 2003 as the basis for creating a common infrastructure across the group."
Scott said, "We decided on .net as the platform for the future because Microsoft will be there in five years' time and, because of the way it develops products, we think the price point will be lower. We also sense that the market will shift in the .net direction."
How does Active Directory work?
Microsoft Windows 2003 Active Directory is organised at the highest level as a "forest", below this there are trees, branches and parent and child sectors to the directory. These various levels of the directory correspond to the access rights of employees to applications and data according to the ways in which a company wants to organise itself.