Getting Ready to Make the NT 4 Server Jump

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Print this article Print


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The clock is ticking. NT 4 Server's day is almost done. Are you ready to migrate your customers to another server operating system?

NT 4 Server's days are ending. On Dec. 31, Microsoft officially pulls the plug on NT Server support, so it's time to start migrating your die-hard NT 4 to another server operating system. The question is: To what?

If you believed Microsoft a while back, the answer to all your network resources and universal directory prayers was (W2K) Windows 2000 and (AD) Active Directory. Ah … no.

Upgrading from NT domains to W2K AD was a bear of a job. I personally don't know of any sizable company that migrated from NT to W2K in less than nine months. Adding insult to injury, these upgrades blew out IT budgets on a regular basis.

It's no wonder that many companies stuck with NT. Managing multiple NT domains may have been messy, but it worked and didn't require man-months for a migration that many customers had trouble seeing value in, in the first place.

Besides, under NT, adding more server capability—whether the servers were Unix or Linux running Samba or another NT system as a BDC (Backup Domain Controller) or pure servers—was a piece of cake. Adding W2K Servers to domains via the "Server Manager" on your NT PDC (Primary Domain Controller) was also easy.

That was then. This is now.

With security problems for Windows operating systems popping up every week, continuing to use NT 4 without some kind of Microsoft support safety net is just asking for your customer to call you up one day with a compromised network.

So it is that today you must find and prove a migration path for your NT customers. There are two main paths: Server 2003 and open-source Samba. Yes, you could do W2K, but, frankly, that path has already been shown to be a lot of trouble, so why bother?

Server 2003 has made AD a lot more friendly, a lot more useful, a lot faster and—last but far from least—a lot easier to upgrade to from NT domains.

Samba, on the other hand, enables you to continue with a domain-style network, has some AD compatibility and lets your customer avoid Microsoft licensing fees.

Of course, you could always trying migrating to Macs, but let's get real, most of your customers will want to stick with the Intel architecture.

During the next week or so, I'll go over the pluses and minuses of what I see as the two main migration paths. But, before I go there, let's go over some of the spadework you're going to need to do for any migration.

Next page: Getting ready to jump.

Before you even think about upgrading, you need to know exactly what's what on the network. Old networks are like old cities; they tend to be filled with little-known neighborhoods and roads that aren't well-mapped.

Unless you've been tracking the evolution of your client's network like a hawk, you're likely to find unknown NT servers, workstations set up with file and print sharing, and BDCs on your networking running everything from Windows 98 to NT 4 SP3, not to mention some Byzantine trust relationships and SAM (Security Accounts Manager) records.

You'll also want to spend some time cleaning out out-of-date, duplicate and unused user, group and computer accounts. While you're at it, you'll also want to consolidate group accounts that have the same permissions.

Click here to read about the opportunities for resellers that are coming with the end of NT 4.

In short, before replacing the network servers, you need to clean them up.

Switching server operating systems is trouble enough without replicating unnecessarily complicated and outdated user and group structures as well. Besides, in cleaning up the network, you'll also eliminate such potential security problems as unused accounts and untrusty "trust" relationships.

While, you're at it, it also wouldn't hurt to make sure that the existing servers are running the latest patches. It's easier to upgrade from up-to-date NT to another system than it is from servers that are still running NT 4 SP3.

At the same time, make sure you have current backups of the existing servers. OK, everyone says that. But, do you take the next step? Have you made sure that you can restore systems from the backups?

I've been unpleasantly surprised more than once to find that religiously kept backups were completely and irredeemably unreadable. Don't let it happen to you.

Finally, check all those servers not just for viruses and spyware—that should go without saying—but also for porn, games, peer-to-peer music stores and the like. Individuals can argue until the cows come home over whether they have a right to play games or trade music or Traci Lords videos over the Internet, but very few businesses indeed want those kinds of materials on their corporate servers.

It's only after you've done all that, that you're finally ready to start moving your customer from NT to another server operating system. Which one and how do you do it? I'll start taking those issues up in my next column.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is editor of eWEEK.com's Linux & Open Source Center and Ziff Davis Channel Zone. Prior to becoming a technology journalist, Vaughan-Nichols worked at NASA and the Department of Defense on numerous major technological projects. Since then, he's focused on covering the technology and business issues that make a real difference to the people in the industry.

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