Windows Server 2003 – Migrate or Upgrade?

Windows Server 2003 Migration Strategy

There are three possible strategies for a successful transfer from NT 4.0 to Windows Server 2003, my goal is to help you decide which strategy will be right for you.

  1. Migrate to a ‘Brand New’ Windows Server 2003 domain.

  2. ‘In Place’ upgrade from NT 4.0 to 2003.

  3. Co-existence of NT 4.0 with Windows Server 2003.


Migration and Upgrade Choices

1. Brand New Domain

Faced with moving to Windows Server 2003, my first choice would be to create a ‘Brand New’ domain.  There are many advantages of a clean start.  For instance, you may want to change your NT 4.0 domain name to match your DNS name.  Also, you probably want to ditch all that baggage from your old domain.

The hardest part of this strategy is to deal with the user accounts.  Two common solutions are to:

a) Export the old accounts in NT 4.0, then use CSVDE to bulk import into Active Directory.

b) Get ADMT and move the accounts from NT 4.0 into the new domain.

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2.  ‘In Place upgrade from NT 4.0.

The simplest strategy is to make an ‘In Place’ upgrade of NT 4.0.  Just insert the CD for Windows Server 2003 into the NT4.0 PDC and the wizard will guide you through the upgrade.  Then repeat this procedure for each of your BDCs.  In my opinion, this ‘In Place’ method is only suitable for small networks with 10-150 users.  In its purest form, this strategy means finishing on Friday as NT 4.0 and coming in on Monday upgraded to a Windows Server 2003 domain.

One worry with the ‘In Place’ migration is that there is no easy rollback should things go wrong.  One tactic is to keep a BDC available but off the main network.  If there is a problem with the migration bring this BDC back and promote it.  Meanwhile while you rebuild the previous PDC offline then try the migration once again. Alternatively, you could restore from that backup you made before attempting the upgrade.

3. Co-existence of NT 4.0 with Windows Server 2003.
Co-existence would be my last choice.  While it is true that co-existence is the most versatile strategy, it does mean extra work running both NT 4.0 and Windows Server 2003.  If you are not careful, the users become confused, and this would make them hostile to the upgrade – which would be a shame.

I accept that for large organizations, co-existence may be the only practical solution.  At its simplest, it could mean an extension of the ‘In Place’ strategy by upgrading a few NT 4.0 BDC’s each month until the whole organization is native Windows Server 2003.

You could also use Co-existence in conjunction with my first strategy ‘Brand New Domain’.  Create a new Windows Server 2003 forest, and then configure trust relationships to the old domain.  Where you need to preserve settings, Microsoft provide good tools to help you move users and their settings across to the new domain, e.g. ADMT and USMT.

At this stage, it is important to reach a preliminary conclusion.  Decide which strategy you are going to deploy, then read these pages to test and refine your Windows 2003 plans.

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Where are you now?

My first suggestion is to take stock and ask, ‘Where are we now?  Exactly what are our servers running?’  The answers should be easy, we are running NT 4.0 or W2K.  But digging a little deeper, do you know which service packs are installed, the amount of RAM each server has, and the size of the system partitions?  All this is leading up to my key question, ‘Will the old machines run the new Server 2003 operating system?’   Also check the HCL (Hardware Compatibility List) on Microsoft’s website.  If you are still in doubt, I would download Microsoft’s free compatibility testing software and prove that your system will upgrade successfully.

What is your Vision?

Now it is time to clarify, ‘Where do you want to get to?’  This is a deceptive question. The answer may not be as simple as migrating to Windows Server 2003.  Perhaps you could use the migration as an opportunity to restructure your domains and consolidate on fewer, bigger servers? (Revise that budget figure and add extra money for new kit).

What I am driving at is develop a vision for IT in your organization.  Imagine the best desktop for your user, think what services they need.  Use migration as an opportunity to reduce costs, increase productivity.   Windows server 2003 is a good choice to turn your vision into reality.  But wait a minute, which ‘flavour’ of Server 2003 do you want?  Enterprise, Web or Standard Windows 2003 server?

Finally, which of these routes will you take?

  1. Migration path NT 4.0 –> Windows Server 2003 (Recommended)

  2. Migration path NT 4.0   –> Windows Server 2000 (Consider above option)

  3. Migration path W2K      –> Windows Server 2003 (Easy, but would it be cost effective?)

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More Windows Server 2003 topics:

• Windows Server 2003 Roles   • IIS v 6.0 Explained   • Upgrade from NT 4.0 •   Install Server 2003

• Active Directory – Intro   • Active Directory – DNS   • Group Policy in Windows 2003   • FSMO Roles

• Windows Secondary Logon Service   • Windows Server 2003 OU   • .NET Explained   • Computer Jokes