W2OK Hits the Ground Running

Many early adopters of Windows 2000 networks have been technology-centric firms eager to prove their mettle with the new operating system and its complicated Active Directory so they can line up consulting contracts to help others make the move.

But by highlighting the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s migration to Windows 2000, Microsoft Corp. (www.microsoft.com) is attempting to demonstrate the feasibility of an Active Directory network in an organization that is not focused full-time on technology.

Kevin King, MIS director for the Oklahoma Supreme Court, supports Microsoft’s theme by saying his organization definitely needed help planning for Active Directory, but found the job manageable after an initial push. "It’s been a real good migration," King says.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s (www.oscn.net) computer network includes remote systems in each of 77 counties, a quarter of a million legal documents, every Oklahoma state statute, as well as rules and guidelines for judges to hand down consistent decisions.

Oklahoma has sharp divisions logistically and culturally between its urban and rural counties, and the network had to be able to accommodate the requirements of both large and small courts. "We have over 70 million records from just Oklahoma and Tulsa counties," King says.

Before Windows 2000 was implemented, the court’s computer system was based on an IBM Corp. (www.ibm.com) mainframe from the early 1980s. It became clear that the system, which has been accumulating data since 1952, needed a more easily scalable solution.

The MIS department had an 18 month decision period for the upgrade. "We intended all along to get Windows 2000, with one minor adjustment – the Alpha," King says. The original plan was to use Alpha-based servers running Windows, but this goal was stymied by the combination of Compaq Corp.’s (www.compaq.com) purchase of Digital Equipment Corp. (www.digital.com) and the Microsoft-Compaq decision to drop Alpha support in Windows 2000.

John O’Hara, lead Windows 2000 product manager for customer reference programs at Microsoft, says King’s conundrum was rare: "We saw very few customers with that issue. Most of our initial customers are moving from competitive operating systems or Windows NT," he explains. Compaq was more than happy to help their new customer redesign a Windows 2000 network.

With Compaq’s help, the Oklahoma Supreme Court took advantage of Microsoft’s Rapid Deployment Program (RDP), which offered support for early adopters of Windows 2000. Other governmental RDP partners include NASA and the Orange County, Calif., school district. O’Hara draws an important distinction between the RDP program and the Joint Development Program, which included technology companies such as Compaq and gave participants a channel for input on the technical direction of Microsoft’s operating system.

RDP partners receive some special assistance from Microsoft -- consultants came on site and helped asses deployment needs -- but King and his staff were able to do most of the work themselves. "The migration was relatively straightforward," he says.

O’Hara says most IT directors will find that a Windows 2000 deployment is feasible with current staff. "After the initial consultation, they really can get ramped up pretty much," he says.

"Bar none, Active Directory was the most difficult part of the deployment," King says. For political and logistic reasons, he created Organizational Units for each of the 77 counties. "We used Active Directory objects and scripted the account," he says.

The team employed migration software for setting up Active Directory, which they found to be a great help. "We used [Windows'] Sysprep to build an image," King says. Trying to set up Active Directory without Sysprep or a similar tool would have been difficult, according to King.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court now has 1,350 iPaq desktops and file and print servers throughout 70 counties. Support for the remaining seven counties is on the way. The court uses Microsoft SQL Server as the database for court records and legal documents.