Windows Server 2003: One year later

Celebrities are infamous for demanding the best, whether it is clothes, cars, food or even their Web presence.

That's why InDimensions Entertainment Group, a Toronto-based firm that builds and manages online communities for bands, including the Cranberries, Blue Rodeo, Eagle Eye Cherry and Ziggy Marley, needed to deliver faultless Web uptime or risk losing its clients.

So the company turned to Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Server 2003. It's been about a year since the operating system first made its appearance on the IT scene, and about eight months since InDimensions's deployment. Now, post-deployment, InDimensions joined 10 other customers at Microsoft Canada Co.'s headquarters in Mississauga, Ont. on Thursday to discuss their migrations to the latest Windows Server.

InDimensions outsources its Web hosting to Interland Inc., based in Atlanta. The company had switched providers frequently since its inception four years ago, said Colin Bowern, executive vice-president, technology at InDimensions.

"As we were dealing with providers, they were disappearing due to instability or lack of reliability," Bowern explained. "So we switched from environment to environment and with a non-Windows environment (each provider) was running different distributions or different versions. So we had to spend a considerable amount of time debugging our environment."

InDimensions's previous providers had run a mix of Windows NT4, 2000, FreeBSD and Linux.

InDimensions settled on Interland for one main reason -- it provided a Windows Server 2003 platform, which delivered the uptime the company needed, Bowern explained.

Now InDimensions has more time for its in-house specialties -- development, building online communities and attracting new clients, Bowern said.

"We opted to consolidate on a single platform as well as choose Interland as our managed service provider," he said. Since the new system went live in September 2003, InDimensions has 99.9 per cent uptime and hasn't had any embarrassing calls from clients saying their Web site is down.

Bowern said the company probably could have got similar functionality out of Linux but added that it would have been too time consuming for the company to set up.

InDimensions isn't the only company to shy away from Linux. Intrawest, which owns 11 resorts around the globe and is based in Vancouver, never once considered the open source operating system over Windows. Intrawest had grown by acquisition over the years and needed to consolidate its disparate locations onto one platform that was centrally managed, explained Philip De Connick, systems architect, Intrawest. However, each location was heavily invested in Microsoft both from a technology and personnel standpoint.

"What we had was disparate domains with no central management or control whatsoever," he explained. Intrawest was running Exchange 5.5, and Windows NT which was hitting capacity so it was either time for the company to scale to a different platform or scale out by adding more servers and employees.

This let Intrawest reduce about 135 NT 4 domain controllers to 35 Windows Server 2003 controllers. Additionally, hardware costs have decreased and network administrators now have more time to focus on other projects, Da Connick said.

Intrawest also moved away from Exchange 5.5 to Exchange 2003 and is now running a large Exchange cluster attached to a storage area network (SAN).

Da Connick said the rollout, which began in early 2003, will be finished by the end of 2004. It is taking this amount of time because Intrawest didn't want to disrupt operations at its resorts during their peak season, the winter months.

Isotechnika Inc., a biotechnology firm that develops therapies for autoimmune disorders like psoriasis, selected Windows Server 2003 because of the document management capabilities enabled by Windows Rights Management in Windows Server 2003's Sharepoint services.

Isotechnika now spends 50 per cent less time preparing documents for audits, said Robert B. Huizinga, director of clinical research at Isotechnika in Edmonton.

"Document control is at the heart of accelerating drug development," he said. "We need to manage versions and have an audit trail.

Using Microsoft's Office System 2003, in tandem with Windows Rights Management, allows users to view and change documents only if they have permission. Additionally, the document review and approval process ensures there aren't different versions of the same documents floating around in the system, Huizinga said.

The Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board is also considering moving to Sharepoint Services. The board just finished a migration to Windows Server 2000 about a year and a half ago, changing over from a mixture of Novell Inc.'s Netware, Windows NT, NDS directory services as well as Windows 3x to 9x on the desktop. The School Board also ran Linux on some thin clients.

Now it runs Windows 2000 on the back end with its desktops being 35 percent fat clients and 85 percent thin clients with Citrix running on Windows.

John Steele, CIO of the school board, said with Sharepoint Services, teachers from across the board could have the ability to collaborate with each other and share resources via the Web, plus create Web sites for different classrooms. Potential candidates for the portal back end include Sharepoint Portal Server 2003, Content Management Server 2003 and the latest version of Class Server.

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