City of Stratford takes the NT 4 migration plunge

The City of Stratford is among a crop of longtime Windows NT 4 users that has decided to bite the bullet and upgrade its software following Microsoft’s decision to end support on the product.

Stratford’s upgrade includes a move to Microsoft Windows Server 2003 operating system with Active Directory directory service, Exchange Server 2003, Virtual Server 2005 and Internet Security Acceleration (ISA) Server 2004. The municipality worked with Microsoft Canada reseller Metafore on the project, which took about 10 days.

Windows NT 4 was originally discontinued in 2001 but heated demands from customers led Microsoft to extend support until the end of 2004. The company continues to offer a fee-based support program until the end of this year.

“There was a total outcry in the field,” said Ron Roy, manager of IT services for the Corporation of the City of Stratford. “You heard threats of walking way from Microsoft’s world, which is nice to say but not really practical.”

Stratford had planned to eventually move towards Windows 2003 anyway, Roy said, but when one of its physical servers was reaching the end of its lifespan he decided it was time to make the jump. He said he liked some of the features in the newer products, including virtualization and Windows Server Update Services for improved security patching.

“There’s not that big of a learning curve if you’re experienced with NT 4,” he said. “There’s a lot less hidden features, so it’s not a case of, ‘I forgot to set that, so this doesn’t work.’ Adding a user is easier.”

Instead of migrating to a brand new environment or co-existing, Metafore built Exchange 2003 into the Active Directory environment and transitioned mailboxes during the day, said Bill Durham, Metafore’s senior consulting systems engineer. Besides shutting down and decommissioning NT 4, the firm also had to deal with Stratford’s BlackBerry deployment, its antivirus and its BrightMail anti-spam setup.

“In smaller environments we do an in-place update to minimize the user impact,” Durham said. “The first phase was the Activity Directory/Exchange and fax component. The second phase was (setting up) ISA server with BrightMail and bringing the BlackBerry online.”

In four or five days the team set it all up, created user profiles, copied over the details and ran in extended parallel mode, Roy said. They then authenticated to NT 4, Exchange 5.5 and continued to accept e-mails but routed them to the 2003 product. Over the switchover happened about 30 days later, the impact was minimal, he added. 

“It took literally 15 minutes of user downtime. It was planned downtime, which was wonderful,” he said. 

Durham said the end of NT4 isn’t turning into the nightmare users expected.

“It’s caused a lot of people to start asking and questioning,” he said. “With all these new products coming out, you want to tie in Active Directory. You want to leverage the best capabilities of something like SharePoint, so your best platform is Windows 2003. You have to have infrastructure at the current level.”

Once they’ve made the jump, organizations like Stratford may be surprised at the result, said Microsoft Canada Windows Server manager Hilary Wittmann.

“In the old world with NT 4, you would have to manage different directories – one for the OS, one for e-mail. This means there’s just one single directory to manage all their users and resources rather than duplicating efforts.”

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