NT Case Study: Preparing for Active Directory

As the industry prepares for Windows 2000 and Active Directory, many companies will wait until the OS arrives before thinking about deployment.

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- As the industry prepares for Windows 2000 and Active Directory, many companies will wait until the OS arrives before thinking about deployment. Other companies plan to follow analysts’ advice and hold off until the software proves stable. But then there are a handful of companies that are already preparing for the great migration, and plan to convert a significant number of Windows NT 4.0 servers to Windows 2000 this year -- assuming the shipping date doesn’t slip into next year.

One such company, Voice Stream Wireless (www.voicestream.com), a national provider of personal communications services, is currently testing and preparing for Windows 2000 and Active Directory.

VoiceStream, in fact, plans to convert at least 60 of its more than 200 Windows NT 4.0 servers to Windows 2000 as soon as the final code ships. The company will deploy the pending operating system across file servers, client services boxes and SQL Server 7.0 machines. Jason Bruner, VoiceStream’s manager of network systems administration, says systems running SQL Server 6.5 and old versions of Exchange will be kept intact due to backward compatibility issues.

For help with migration, VoiceStream is participating in Microsoft Corp.’s Corporate Preview Program (CPP) for Windows 2000. With CPP, customers get tools to install, test and evaluate Beta 3 to see how the final version will work in their network infrastructures.

In addition to the Microsoft tools and support included with CPP, VoiceStream is using a software suite from Mission Critical Software Inc. (www.missioncritical.com) called OnePoint EA. Mission Critical says the suite enables administrators to use existing Windows NT 4.0 group memberships and domain structures to create, evaluate, operate and undo Active Directory models, without impacting the production network.

OnePoint EA is one tool in an emerging market of migration products for Windows 2000. Other key players in this arena include FastLane Technologies Inc. (www.fastlanetech.com), Aelita Software Inc. (www.aelita.com), Banyan Systems Inc. (www.banyan.com) and Entevo Corp. (www.entevo.com).

Citing Active Directory as the biggest migration obstacle, VoiceStream is using OnePoint EA to consolidate Windows NT 4.0 domains in preparation for Active Directory.

"Our environment was too convoluted," Bruner says, citing the problem as a major reason the company plans to migrate to Windows 2000 right away. "We had six domains, more than 6,000 user accounts and 112 remote sites."

Bruner also found that more than 2,100 user accounts had not been activated in two years. These included administrative accounts and accounts shared by end-users, as well as a user account of a disgruntled former employee.

Bruner now has the network down to about 4,500 user accounts, nearly in sync with the number of actual users. Additionally, all domains are consolidated and ready for Active Directory.

"The biggest thing was getting down to a single domain," Bruner says. "In addition to that, we took a 14,000-file directory tree, with more than 700 groups of NT systems, copied it and converted it from NT to Windows 2000 successfully, and the beta of Windows 2000 with Active Directory is currently up and running in our test lab."

Although Windows 2000 Beta 3 is not classified as Y2K compliant because it is still in the testing cycle, Microsoft insists that by the time the final version ships, Windows 2000 will be ready for the notorious date change.

To avoid surprise complications, though, VoiceStream’s IT department built a test center that has Windows 2000 servers running with dates well into 2000. Bruner will keep running those servers until the Y2K bug appears to be resolved.

"We created a lead time so we have the chance to handle any issues that may arise," Bruner says.