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Timing your Windows Server 2008 migration

Gary Olsen

IT managers who are getting ready to move to Windows Server 2008 from Windows 2000 or 2003 need to justify that the time is right for migrating.

Migrating to a new version of Windows, or to a new version of Office, comes with inherent risks. There are always undiscovered bugs in any software product. Over time, those bugs are flushed out and fixed. The later you migrate, the safer you are, but then you don't get the benefits of the new features either.

I recall one instance where a customer had large SQL Server databases hosted on a storage system that was hosted on a new generation of server. The customer's day-to-day business relied on employee access to the databases. A hardware failure caused by the migration took a few days to resolve. While the database was down, the CIO was pressing for a quick resolution because he claimed to be losing US$1 million per hour. When you multiply thousands of employees' salaries, not to mention lost business, I'm sure he wasn't far off on his claim.

In this case the customer knowingly took this kind of risk to take advantage of new technology - to be on the "bleeding edge". There were a number of bugs in Windows and in various drivers that had not been discovered, and they paid for it. For them, however, it was still worth it because of the overall benefits to their business.

When you are planning an upgrade to new technology, understand that there is a risk factor associated with the timing of your migration.

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To mitigate that risk, many companies don't go to a new Microsoft operating system until the company releases service pack 1.

On the other hand, there are always new features and benefits that may justify taking those risks. HP, for example, migrated its production Active Directory infrastructure to Windows 2003 at RC1 and has been running for several months on Windows Server 2008 because the company wanted the benefits of new features such as the Read Only Domain Controller.

The key decision point rests on whether the benefits justify the risks, so you must identify areas where the new OS will actually reduce costs. For instance, reducing server downtime will help save money. By preventing outages, Windows shops will maintain access to resources and avoid a gap in user productivity.

Reducing support calls is another area for savings. More reliable hardware, of course is important, but so are quick recovery features in Active Directory and the operating system as well as diagnostic tools, logging and skilled administrators and support staff who can minimise downtime. Keep in mind, too, that some features listed by Microsoft were essentially available in Windows 2003 and 2003 R2 products, with few or no enhancements for 2008.

Before scheduling your Windows Server 2008 migration, keep these important points in mind:

  1. Find benefits that apply to your environment.

  2. Quantify those benefits into savings dollars. Use figures that will make a difference, such as:

    a. Labour costs

    b. Maintenance

    c. Hardware and software support costs

    d. Administration costs

    e. Security

Security is difficult to quantify, but it is essential to safeguard company assets. To quantify these benefits, build a matrix, such as the one in Table 1, where you identify new features and benefits along with their cost benefits in areas ranging from labor to security.

Table 1: Windows Server 2008 new features and benefits . (Click on image for enlarged view.)

This table needs some explanation. First, it is strictly my opinion. I have listed many -- but not all -- of the new features and advantages of Windows Server 2008, based on an excellent document called Changes in Functionality from Windows Server 2003 with SP1 to Windows Server 2008. The features you choose to highlight depend on your Windows environment. For instance, if you are virtualising servers using VMware, you will obviously not find any benefit from Windows Server Hyper-V virtualisation. Also If you are using third-party backup or administration tools, you won't see benefits in those areas either.

The "Business reason" column identifies features that would either stand alone or be a major contributor to moving to Windows Server 2008. However, when building a business case, other features can provide benefits and contribute to an ROI calculation.

There are several line items, such as the Windows Reliability and Performance Monitor, that do have some cost-reduction benefit, even though I indicated "No" in the "Business reason" column.

In building a cost-reduction matrix for your migration decision, assemble a team of technical leaders who understand the environment, as well as those who can see the business side. Use Microsoft's many Web resources to determine the features that will reduce costs, provide better business value and sustain a return on investment.

Quantify those benefits to generate a savings estimate while also taking into consideration the negative aspects. Some features may have a positive benefit in certain areas but a negative cost benefit in others. In addition, consider the following:
 

  • Training - Many of these new features will require the IT staff to get extra training
  • New hardware - Windows Server 2008 and related products may require additional investment in new hardware, as did Windows Vista. Using some features like the Read Only Domain Controller or splitting servers into "Server Roles" could mean that more servers need to be installed.
  • Licensing - Windows isn't free. Be sure to determine licensing costs for the migration.

After all this analysis, there may still be reasons that specifically prohibit a migration at least in near term. Issues such as application compatibility, budget constraints, untrained staff or perhaps a cyclic business that won't permit a migration until a later date can affect the migration. Still, you will ultimately need to move to Windows Server 2008, so it will be wise to prepare your business case early.

Gary Olsen is a systems software engineer for Hewlett-Packard in Global Solutions Engineering.