Windows 2000: Time to Think Strategy

Windows 2000 finally appears to be nearing completion. By the time you read this, Beta 3 should be widely available, and it could quickly become Microsoft Corp.'s largest beta deployment ever. While most IT managers are loathe to deploy beta code, particularly Microsoft beta code, the time has come to start thinking about how Windows 2000 will fit into your near-term and medium-term corporate IT plans.

Most corporate users will likely pick up a copy to start familiarizing themselves with the new capabilities that Windows 2000 offers. But I expect virtually all corporate deployments will be limited to test environments and a handful of workstations that IT professionals use day to day. Broad corporate deployment – at places other than Microsoft -- will be close to zilch until the final release code arrives. Assuming the final code is shipped as expected in October, and Service Pack 1 appears between then and the end of the year, significant deployment probably will not start in earnest until early next year.

Windows 2000 represents an important juncture that will force IT managers to rethink other hardware and software decisions. Adopting Windows 2000 will not be as simple as deploying the new version on a uniprocessor or a four-way system. There will soon be powerful eight-way machines available: Systems that may offer some real performance advantage over four-bangers. You also need to consider other important points: is this the time to start a migration to 64-bit Windows 2000 computing, how will you handle server consolidation in the future and what migration plans are in store, if any, for your desktop systems?

Uniprocessor vs. SMP Servers. Performance is one of the remaining aspects of Windows 2000 that Microsoft says will be tweaked after the release of Beta 3. You can therefore assume the performance of the final code will be as good or better than Beta 3. That is good news, but the real benefit will come from Intel Corp., which is building processors that are 10 times faster in clock rate alone. Compared with when NT 4.0 was released in 1996. Intel has already demonstrated a 1 GHz system, which could be available by this time next year.

Will you need more power on a per-server basis? If so, you may want to look at a two-way system, which will keep your licensing cost at the lower Windows 2000 Server tier. Windows 2000 Server is expected to be appreciably cheaper than the four-way Advanced Server tier. If you anticipate greater growth potential, you may want to buy into an SMP or SMP-ready system that will grow to eight processors. Indications are that the eight-way Xeon machines will far outperform the four-way systems, a claim eight-way Pentium Pro systems were never able to make.

Another choice may include one of the nonindustry-standard architectures, such as the Cellular Multiprocessing (CMP) system under design at Unisys Corp. The CMP machine is expected to offer high levels of SMP scaling: 32-way and beyond. Regardless if such hardware scales or not, it will be pretty tough to justify such a system until Windows 2000 proves its stability and scalability.

64-Bit Computing. Will you need 64-bit computing? Probably not. Few users really do. But if you are building large database applications and need extended memory capabilities, you have the option of buying a Compaq AlphaServer, which will offer 64-bit Windows 2000 support at least a year before any Merced processors are shipped in volume to computer manufacturers. Compaq, however, has yet to convince me that Alpha really is a core technology for the company.

There are options. You don’t have to immediately jump for the Alpha. You can use the Intel Extended Server Memory Architecture features in the Xeon processor that enable 36-bit addressing with Windows 2000. The other alternative is to wait for systems built on Merced, which is more than a year away.

Looking for ZAW/TCO. Windows 2000 will help with cost of ownership issues. Active Directory will ease server management -- once it's fully deployed -- and should lower network management costs. The Windows 2000 desktop lock-down capabilities, long touted by Microsoft, are way overdue. You can only get the full benefits from both technologies, however, if or when you upgrade servers and desktop workstations to Windows 2000 -- a costly proposition if you have systems that are more than a year old.