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Last Updated December 10, 2003

Getting Started with Windows 2000

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Not sure where to start with Windows 2000? Find all the information a little overwhelming? Here's a quick overview with some advice on where to start.
Windows 2000 Primer

What is Windows 2000?
Windows 2000 is the newest incarnation of Microsoft's flagship Operating System, Windows NT. In fact, it was originally designated as NT 5.0 until Microsoft changed its name for marketing reasons. Both Windows NT and Windows 2000 are extremely well built, robust, secure, and popular Operating Systems that are designed specifically for businesses and high end applications. But Windows 2000 is a lot more than just a simple upgrade. It's almost a total rewrite of the Windows NT Operating System, with hundreds of new features and fixes. Just because you know Windows NT, don't assume you'll know Windows 2000. This is especially true of the Windows 2000 Server product and the way it functions in an Enterprise environment.

Design Goals and new Features
Microsoft's goals for Windows 2000 were to build on the best of Windows NT, and incorporating some of the advances made in Windows 98. This includes extending Windows 2000's abilities, increasing its stability, making it easier to use and administer, and removing any annoying "features" that IT Professionals were complaining about. For example, Windows 2000 adds an updated user interface that looks more like Windows 98, supports Plug and Play and advanced hardware support, and more useful administration tools. Microsoft has also removed over 30 reboot requirements, improved and stabilized the driver model, added Defragmentation and better Disk Management, improved Backup capabilities, and added a much needed Recovery console - all based on feedback from Professionals in the field.

Another goal for Windows 2000 was to be a better alternative against NT's biggest rivals,  Novell and Unix. The ambitious introduction of Active Directory that is part of the Windows 2000 Server product promises to make Novell a bit nervous. It is a head to head competitor against Novell's last surviving advantage, its Directory Services. Against UNIX, Windows 2000 delivers it's ultra-reliable and scalable DataCenter Server. Microsoft also plans to make a 64 bit version of Windows 2000 as soon as it can.

Versions
Just like Windows NT, Windows 2000 comes in several versions:

Professional The replacement for NT Workstation. Supports plug and play, up to 2 processors, and multiple video cards.
Server Replaces NT Server. Adds Active Directory, supports 4 processors and 4GB of physical RAM. Better Disk management and recovery options.
Advanced
Server
Designed for e-commerce and line-of-business applications. It includes everything in Windows 2000 Server plus supports 2 way clustering, up to 8 processors, and up to 8 GB of RAM
DataCenter To be released after Windows 2000 ships. DataCenter Server will include all Advanced Server features plus greater processing and memory capabilities to meet the needs of intensive online transaction processing (OLTP), large data warehouses and large Internet and Application service providers (ISPs and ASPs). It supports up to 32 processors, and 64 GB of RAM! It also cascading failover among 4 nodes, and 32 node network load balancing.

Hardware Requirements
Another similarity between Windows NT and Windows 2000 is it's very demanding hardware requirements. It's no surprise to anyone that Windows 2000 has a Hardware Compatibly List as NT does, but what came as a shock to may was its steep hardware requirements. Windows 2000 was designed for tomorrows hardware, not for today's, and it eats processors and RAM for lunch.

Here are the minimum recommended hardware requirements...

Win2000 Version

CPU Memory Disk Space
Professional P133  64Mb 1 GB
Server P133  256Mb 1 GB
Adv Server P133  256Mb 1 GB
DataCenter To be announced To be announced To be announced

Our personal view is that for best performance, you should double these minimums when buying a new workstation or server. Give Windows 2000 plenty of breathing room and the horsepower it needs, and it will actually run faster than Windows NT on the same system.

Upgrading to Windows 2000
For most businesses and consultants we've talked to, the question of upgrading to Windows 2000 isn't if, it's when. Many businesses are taking a "wait and see" approach to see what the feedback will be from the early adopters. Some plan to wait until the first service pack is released, the conventional wisdom being that most of the major release bugs will be worked out from there.

If you are planning to upgrade your Workstations to Windows 2000, you'll be happy to know that you can upgrade your Windows NT, Windows 95, and Windows 98 workstations directly. The smoothest upgrades we've seen so far has been directly from NT. Unless you just absolutely can't afford it, we'd recommend a clean installation of Windows 2000 on new hardware. Windows 2000 installation is similar to Windows NT, but has a cleaner interface and plug and play makes things a lot simpler. Check out our Installation Resources for more info.

We'd also recommend getting plenty of "test time" in with Windows 2000 in a good sized computer lab before you try to upgrade your entire existing network. You'll want a very good understanding of Active Directory, and should set up a completely parallel test PDC/BDC structure on your domain before you do a "live" migration. Backup everything in case there are any problems and have a well defined backout plan. (Check out our Deployment and Active Directory Resource Guides for more info.) There is also a lot of preparation work that you can do before a full scale migration.

Overall
From what we've seen, Microsoft did an excellent job with Windows 2000. The sheer size of the Beta release has shown a commitment to getting it right, even if it meant delaying the release several times. The documentation Redmond has been providing has been much better than what was available for NT 4.0, and the preview releases we've tested exceeded our expectations. Since Windows 2000 will work in a mixed NT 4.0 environment, a common migration strategy seems to be to deploy Windows 2000 Professional to the desktop while retaining the old NT 4.0 Domain structure and PDC/BDC's. Some also plan to use a few Windows 2000 servers strictly as an applications platform, without actually migrating the entire domain to Active Directory until more documentation and real world Enterprise deployments have been completed. 

Getting familiar with Windows 2000
Our final advice: If your a full time NT Administrator, download and read Microsoft's Course 1555a. It's free and will keep you busy for hours. You should also download Microsoft's Deployment and Planning Guide, which is essentially one of the books from the new 7 volume Windows 2000 Resource Kit. Set up a lab and install Windows 2000 Professional and Server yourself, performing both OS upgrades and new installations on a variety of hardware platforms. Run a few test unattended installations for Win2000 professional. Setup a small domain and get used to the new Administration tools, like the MMC, Disk Management, and the Recovery Console. Set up a regular Windows NT 4.0  test Domain with 2  test BDC's and then practice a migration to Active Directory. Try to break it. Kick the tires. By all means get comfortable with it at all costs BEFORE you deploy it for real. Don't wing it in a production environment. It's really worth a look, but it's not the same old NT.

Our impressions of Windows 2000 (Post Service Pack 1)
Windows 2000 is a solid product and a much more stable platform that Windows NT 4.0. Windows 2000's plug and play capabilities exceed that of Windows 98 and new installations on modern hardware is a breeze. Laptops can be tricky, but a little preplanning solved most issues. (Check your vendor's recommendations first.) Upgrades from NT 4.0 Workstation or Server went well 90% of the time. Upgrades from Windows 9x, were often painful but still succeeded in most cases, if planned properly. (see our installation buglists for more info.) We also tested over 2,500 applications for a major oil company, and found that most 32 bit applications work well if they aren't dependent on OS specific drivers. (Scanner software written for Windows95, printer specific graphics programs,  CD-R Software, etc.,) 16 bit programs worked well 80% of the time, depending on how well they were written. Security is improved across the board, and the new Group Policy templates allow for an amazing amount of control over users and resources. Active Directory works well if planned properly, and appears to scale well. However we discovered that new features such as IntelliMirror, Dfs, Dynamic Disks, Remote Storage Services, and Removable Storage Manager have more than a few bugs and are more trouble than they are worth. Windows 2000 Server rocks as an application or web server, and the clustering capabilities in Advanced Server are much improved over NT 4.0's Wolfpack. All in a all, a worthwhile upgrade if you stick to the basics of what you currently use Windows NT 4.0. You should se an immediate benefit simply by rolling out Windows 2000 Professional to your current workstations. Replacing your application servers with Windows 2000 server should improve stability and reduce downtime. If (or when) organizations decide to migrate to Active Directory, you'll be able to take advantage of the improved administration capabilities, delegation, and granular control that it provides.

 

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