In a significant about-face, a top Microsoft official has said the software giant will offer a direct migration path from existing Windows NT 3.51 servers to NT 5.0 when the new version of the operating system hits the streets late this year.
Until now, the software giant said NT 3.51 users first would have to upgrade all of their servers to NT 4.0 before they could move on to NT 5.0. That development angered the NT 3.51 user community, which at the beginning of 1997 comprised more than 70% of the NT installed base.
While those users wanted the distributed services scheduled to ship with NT 5.0 -- namely the Active Directory Service (ADS) -- they did not want to jeopardise the stability of existing NT 3.51 server-based networks and pay for two major operating system upgrades in as many years.
Microsoft's Jim Allchin, senior vice president of the company's Desktop and Business Systems Division, still maintains that users should make the move to NT 4.0 first and then deploy the recently released NT 4.0 Option Pack. Together, the software packages lay the groundwork for many of the new NT 5.0 components, he says. For example, NT 4.0 has support for the Unix-based Domain Name System, which will act as the server locator service for ADS.
However, Allchin last week confirmed the company is testing a complete set of migration tools that will allow NT 3.51 users to move directly to NT 5.0. Allchin declined to detail what kinds of NT 3.51 migration tools the company is developing, saying only they will "give users as smooth a path as possible'' to NT 5.0.
"We received a lot of heat from the users who just won't budge from NT 3.51 and we've had to listen to them,'' Allchin said.
Microsoft first shipped NT 4.0 in the fourth quarter of 1996. The company no longer sells new NT 3.51 licenses and stopped providing new service packs and bug fixes as of December 1997. However, Microsoft still offers day-to-day technical support for NT 3.51, and existing users can purchase additional server licenses.
According to industry analysts, decreasing support for NT 3.51 at Microsoft, coupled with huge growth in the NT 4.0 run rate in 1997, has significantly evened out the installed base. Gartner Group analyst Neil MacDonald estimated that 40% of the current NT installed base is running NT 3.51.
However, because Microsoft has delayed the shipment of NT 5.0 until year-end at the earliest, some previously die-hard NT 3.51 users said they now may have enough time and resources to complete both upgrades.
Last year, Nationsbanc-CRT was one of the Microsoft customers that was concerned about forced back-to-back up-grades for its 60 NT 3.51 servers. But Rick Shope, manager of PC technology for the Chicago-based trading arm of Nationsbanc Corp., said he is less worried about that now, since he has already upgraded half of his servers and 90% of his 850 workstations to NT 4.0.
"But it's still good to hear that if I have to keep some of my machines on NT 3.51 for one reason or another, Microsoft is not going to leave me hanging when we do eventually move to 5.0,'' Shope says.
Kurt Guererro, a senior LAN architect with Northern Trust Bank, also in Chicago, is in the process of moving as many of the bank's NT 3.51 servers over to 4.0 as possible. He says several smaller branch offices would not get the NT 4.0 code but would need the NT 5.0 code to be included in the NT 5.0 directory tree.
"Just knowing that this tool set will be available will be helpful to our affiliate sites,'' Guererro says.