GoInvest Invests in W2K Infrastructure

With only42 employees, GoInvest.com's rollout of Windows 2000 was on a much smaller scalethan the hundreds or thousands of seats required for the typical enterprisedeployment. But this small dot-com's implementation of Windows 2000 could serveas a useful example for IT managers looking to migrate to Microsoft Corp.'s (www.microsoft.com) new operating system.

GoInvest.com,a small software development company, provides online tools, data, andinformation to financial institutions and businesses. The company aggregates agreat deal of data into a warehouse and provides a simple and extensible APIfor clients to adapt the data for their own use or to repackage it for theirclients.

In January,GoInvest was running a hodgepodge of various servers, operating systems, andclient software. The company was hosting Windows NT and Red Hat Linux on DellComputer Corp. (www.dell.com) machines.GoInvest's databases ran both Windows NT and MySQL, workstations at GoInvestran Windows NT, and its Web server was Apache on Red Hat Linux.

Before thepublic rollout of Windows 2000 in February, GoInvest executives met withMicrosoft and decided on a migration plan. They chose to go with Windows 2000Advanced Server, IIS 5.0 for the company's Web server, and SQL Server 7.0 --all on Dell's PowerEdge dual and quad processor servers. The desktops would runWindows 2000 Professional.

The firststep in the migration was to shift the company's servers to a unified Windows2000 platform. To do this, the company needed to invest in more technology,both hardware and software infrastructure. GoInvest accumulated servers for itsWeb server farm and database server tier. Finally, it installed Cisco SystemsInc.'s (www.cisco.com) Local Director loadbalancing software.

SinceGoInvest already had a software infrastructure in place, the first step toWindows 2000 migration was software migration. The company moved all of its CGIscripts from Perl on Apache Linux to ActiveState Perl for Windows 2000. Oncethe software was moved, manual testing of all the scripts was performed toensure they functioned properly on the new platform. Microsoft assisted in thetesting phase of the migration. After the manual testing, GoInvest performedfunctional testing of the CGI scripts once they had been migrated, thenreplicated the testing environment and duplicated it into several servers forload balancing and failover.

Afterfunctional testing came load testing, which actually had to be performed twicefor GoInvest's migration. Load testing investigates the servers' strengths,capacities, and other server functionality. The first time GoInvest performedthe load testing, the company had not yet installed Cisco's Local Director.GoInvest performed the initial load testing with Microsoft software includedwith Windows 2000. It repeated the tests after installing the Cisco software.

After loadtesting, it was time for GoInvest to become an early adopter of Windows 2000and deploy. The total time of software migration was three worker-days."The migration was pretty painless," says Mohammed Rashid, GoInvest'sCTO.

Currently,GoInvest runs its network on Dell PowerEdge 4300 dual and quad Pentium IIImachines, with Cisco infrastructure software for firewall, load-balancing,intrusion-detection, and routing functions. Windows 2000 handles IIS and SQLServer 7.0. GoInvest's financial search engine, FinancialFind.com, runs onSiteServer.

Themigration is complete, and Rashid reports that the network's stability is high,"Close to 24x7," he says. "Moving to Windows 2000 gave us thatpath [to go to 24x7 availability]." Rashid points out that it took amassive accumulation of hardware and software for the company to optimizeMicrosoft's and Cisco's failover capabilities for constant availability.

In additionto failover capability, Windows 2000 -- specifically Windows DNA -- gaveGoInvest room to grow its network. The company's network is three-tiered, witha database tier on the back end, a middle tier designed for application serverusage and business logic processes, and the front-end tier for presentation --including Web servers and CGI scripts. Rashid reports that it has been easy toadd and remove servers from each tier. Additionally, because GoInvest mostlydistributes its services in the form of open, extensible APIs, it has almostthe entire middle tier of servers into which to expand. Rashid says the companyis planning to implement an alert system, which would alert users to prices ofcertain stocks. Such a business logic system would reside in the middle tier.

A smallbusiness such as GoInvest would seem to be a good fit for Red Hat Linuxservers. Why, then, did GoInvest decide to become an early adopter of Windows2000? According to Rashid, "Apache Linux is a skill in itself." Hadthe company stayed with Red Hat, it would have eventually had to run a hybridnetwork, as it had been doing before its Windows 2000 deployment. The ITdepartment would have to perform and maintain the integration of Linux andWindows NT/2000 systems.

"Microsoftgave us the impetus in terms of licensing and free software to go withthem," Rashid added. With that consideration, GoInvest studied bothoptions and decided that a large Windows 2000 framework would be easier todeploy and administer than a similar framework running Apache Linux. Rashidreports that Microsoft's support, software, and technical assistance greatlyinfluenced the company's decision to adopt Windows 2000.

How hasGoInvest adapted to its new network environment? While the user environment hasbeen easily learned, there were some initial issues with network management andserver security. Some problems regarding the assignment of passwords andunderstanding the security model popped up. It was "definitely differentfrom the Windows NT world," Rashid notes. He also points out that ITmanagers need to improve their knowledge of how Windows 2000 provides securityand user permissions. Rashid adds that Microsoft's support with these initialproblems was helpful and well-received.