Testing Windows 2000 Beta 3 in the Real World

After a quick tour and some minimum configuration testing of Windows 2000 installation that we outlined in the last issue, we went on to take Windows 2000 Beta 3 through a few real-world scenarios.

Hands On: Windows 2000 Beta 3

Editor’s note: This is the second of a series that is looking at installing and using Windows 2000 in production-like use. Neither Microsoft nor ENT encourages users to deploy Windows 2000 Beta 3 into production networks: These articles are intended to help readers understand the impact a Windows 2000 deployment could have within their own infrastructure.

After a quick tour and some minimum configuration testing of Windows 2000 installation that we outlined in the last issue, we went on to take Windows 2000 Beta 3 through a few real-world scenarios.

Our first challenge was installing the software on laptop systems. After installing it on several relics we had around the office to get some basic confidence, we upgraded my computer, a Dell Inspiron 7000 laptop. This laptop has a 300-MHz Pentium II, 192 MB of RAM and 8 GB of disk storage. The upgrade to Windows 2000 Professional went well. We found compatibility with Novell NDS to be included, unfortunately we could not get Novell Application Launcher to work without installing the Novell client software. Another observation was that the Microsoft client software for Novell NDS seemed to be considerably faster than the latest version of Novell client software.

We will continue to use Windows 2000 on the Inspiron, and time will tell if any problems emerge as we live with this operating system for the rest of the Beta period.

Other laptops that we tried included machines from AST Computers LLC, Compaq Computer Corp. and IBM Corp. These machines delivered some odd problems including a fatal crash and drivers that wouldn't install properly.

A bigger problem, however, was testing the pile of PC cards we have accumulated. Most of the modems were no trouble at all and were recognized immediately using Windows 2000 plug and play. CardBUS network adapter PC cards from 3COM seemed to be the most difficult to get to work. Other PC cards that proved troublesome were the less-used cards, such as SCSI adapters and sound cards, that were also troublesome in Windows 9x. Since we had no universal serial bus (USB) peripherals available, we didn’t exercise the USB capabilities of Windows 2000. Despite the problems with getting all of the cards to work, overall our laptop testing showed good results.

High-End Server

For our next test, we installed Windows 2000 Server on a relatively high-end machine: a Dell server sporting dual 400-MHz Pentium II processors, 512 MB of RAM, 44 GB of Ultra-SCSI disk storage and dual 100BaseT network adapters.

The system installed quickly and cleanly from the bootable Windows 2000 Beta 3 CD, including all the drivers for the Ultra-SCSI devices and the network controllers. The server quickly proved to be a superb platform for running Windows 2000. This is both a good and bad thing. This operating system performs well when given ample CPU and memory resources, but at the same time it has forever raised the bar for minimal configurations. Many lower-end Windows NT systems can’t support Windows 2000. Just like Windows 95 made 16 MB computers a minimum configuration, Windows 2000 will make 64 MB workstations and 512 MB servers the standard for business applications.

First Disaster

Our next test proved to be a wake-up call. After carefully backing up a production Web server, we tried upgrading the machine to Windows 2000. We wound up buying a load of trouble: The upgrade failed miserably.

The operating system got stuck in a "booting safe mode, rebooting, booting safe mode" loop that could not be resolved no matter what we did. We tried removing everything we could to heal this system. One by one, we removed cards, drives and memory. We stripped this system down to bare bones but it wouldn’t boot correctly. Even worse, it wouldn’t stay up long enough in "Safe Mode" to allow us to find out what could have been wrong with it.

Eventually we gave up. We formatted the hard drive and installed from scratch. After installing a clean version of Windows 2000 server we then had a stable system. We then restored our data from backup and reset all the Web services. The machine, which is an internal Web server not available to the outside world, continues to run on Windows 2000. We plan to exercise this machine over the next few months and make conversion decisions based on how that machine fares.

Lesson Learned

We don’t know what went wrong with the failed installation, but we are now more cautious about upgrading running systems to Windows 2000. A better plan of action would be to perform a rolling replacement of Windows NT 4.0 systems with Windows 2000 systems. Build a new one then move the data from the current server to the new server. Then wipe the current server and use it for the next rolling upgrade. This method would allow for some overlap in the time that the new server would be in place and the old server would be offline but ready to come back online should a problem arise. This will be time consuming, but it is certainly safer than backing up a system and then doing an upgrade.

In the next article of this series, we will begin to use the Windows 2000 change and configuration management capabilities. This feature promises to deliver the same computing environment -- including access to data, applications and preference settings -- from wherever a user logs in.

Impressions of Windows 2000 Beta 3

Positives:

-Safe Mode
-Laptop compatibility allows Windows 2000 to replace both Windows NT and Windows 9x for all business workstations
-Compatibility with Novell NDS

Negatives:

-Windows 2000 is big, which could complicate and delay future releases
-Lower end systems should be retired rather than upgraded
-Significant retraining is necessary to get the best return on upgrading

Making Laptop Upgrades Reversible

Like server upgrades, a Windows 2000 laptop or desktop upgrade should not be taken lightly. You need to back up the system so a restore is possible. If you’re not sure how, here’s one way.

Use Norton Ghost (www.symantec.com) to image the drive, enabling a drive restoration if necessary. We create a new partition on the disk that holds the Ghost image. If the install fails, reboot from a floppy, repartition, format the C drive and then restore the image into the new partition. If you don't have enough space to create this partition, use PartitionMagic from PowerQuest (www.powerquest.com) to resize your current partition down. When the operating system installs properly, copy your applications over. Just note that PartitionMagic doesn't recognize NTFS version 5, so make the partition adjustments before you start your upgrade.