Profiles in IT: Guiding a U.K. S&L to Windows
Meeting the challenges of moving a major U.K. company to Windows 2000 and Active Directory is easier than defusing bombs, but perhaps just as challenging.
With 20,000 seats, 1,000 sites and 2,000 servers, the current migration of the U.K.'s largest building society (savings and loan to those in the U.S.) to Windows 2000 is a major operating system upgrade. Helping to implement the change was Dave Shaw, principal of Genesis ii, a consulting firm in Simsbury, Conn.
Shaw was chief architect of the company's move to Active Directory, a new element in Windows 2000 that acts as an enterprisewide database of network resources, users and so on, and performs much the same function that Novell Directory Services and similar products perform in NetWare and other network operating systems. "A directory includes virtually any kind of attribute about a user—his phone number, address, contact information, where he works and who he works for," says Shaw. "One of the big issues with directories is that since they handle an awful lot of information, you have to control that information very carefully. Essentially, [the Active Directory work] was a design for [the building society's] Windows 2000 deployment."
Shaw got his first exposure to IT in the U.S. Air Force, working on avionics. "What we've got in airplanes amounts to very large IT systems that point bullets and bombs at opponents," he says. "The last few years I spent in the military we lost our favorite enemy, the Soviets, so the Air Force invited me either to jump ship and take the money, or stay and retrain in something else." Shaw decided to stay.
That "something else" was ordnance disposal at Nellis Air Force Base, a 3.5 million acre bombing and artillery range in southern Nevada. Shaw's superiors found out about his computer background and put him to work in the facility's IT operation, which in 1990, amounted to two 286-era Zenith Z-100s that wouldn't boot from their hard drives, and two IBM Selectric typewriters.
"We set about to modernize that operation," Shaw recalls. "We had new ordnance recognition systems and a lot of classified data that needed to be migrated over to computer systems. We put together a local area network, and we started [Novell] NetWare. Seven or eight months after we got that working, Microsoft's federal rep walked into my office, dropped a copy of Windows NT Advanced Server on my desk and said, ‘It's brand new, and we'll give it to you. All you have to do is try it.'"
Shaw figured it was a good excuse to get a bigger server, so he went to Las Vegas, picked one up and installed NT. "From that point on, we became a Windows NT shop," he says. "I can't really prove it, but we were probably the first production NT domain in the entire Air Force."
Meanwhile, he'd been teaching IT part-time at a trade school in Las Vegas, and when the school invited him to teach full-time, he resigned from the Air Force and took the job. Along the way, he got his MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) and MCT (Microsoft Certified Trainer) credentials as well—the first in Nevada, outside of Microsoft employees, to do so.
The teaching job led to corporate training and consulting gigs, and in the late 1990s, Shaw packed up his family, moved to Connecticut and opened Genesis ii. The consultancy specializes in training and infrastructure design work, and in the last three years it's focused on directory work, Exchange, e-mail systems and management systems.
The job at the British building society took Shaw and his associates about four months, and others are now finishing up design and installation of servers and workstations. Shaw expects everything to be deployed by January 2002. The U.K. job was not his first that involved migrating systems to Windows 2000—he was involved earlier in a similar job for the Depository Trust and Clearing Corp. on Wall Street. "Windows 2000 is an extremely complex operating system," Shaw comments. "There's plenty of work for those who know it."
So which is more challenging—defusing bombs or installing new network software? "I'm not necessarily a thrill junkie, but I do enjoy doing things that other people haven't done," Shaw says. "At Nellis, my biggest concern was getting their systems up and running. Between the computing systems that we were trying to develop and the bombs that we were trying to make go away, it kept me pretty busy."
Bob Mueller is a writer and magazine publishing consultant based in the Chicago area, covering technology and management subjects.