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Windows NT to 2003 Migration: The Final Steps
By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols


The countdown for Windows NT 4 Server is ticking away and with the new year, Microsoft officially pulls the plug on NT Server support. Smart resellers know their clients’ migration from NT to Windows Server 2003 shouldn’t be done in a year-end rush in between holiday shopping.

First off, managers should carefully prepare the servers for the transition. Next comes the actual planning for the conversion. With the checklist in hand, then it’s time to start.

However, make sure you’ve got a lot of time for your conversion. If there’s one thing, I’ve always found to be true about updating operating systems; the job always takes longer than you think it will. It’s best to assume that you’ll need at least a weekend for the job, and given a choice in the matter, a long weekend.

I prefer to start at the top with the PDC (Primary Domain Controller). If the existing PDC can’t handle Server 2003, take a BDC (Backup Domain Controller) and upgrade it to a PDC while downgrading the old NT PDC to a BDC.

If none of the existing server hardware can handler Server 2003, set up the soon-to-be master computer with NT. Then, set it up as a BDC, promote it to a PDC, while demoting the old PDC to a BDC, and finally upgrade it to Server 2003.

Every now and again, I hear of someone trying to clone an existing NT PDC Server to a newer, better machine. And more often than not, they have endless configuration problems afterwards—if they’re lucky enough to get the cloned system running in the first place.

Cloning, with programs such as Symantec Norton Ghost is great for workstations, but foolish with servers. Sure, it’s a pain going though all the trouble of installing NT just to blow all the work away with a Server 2003 update. Then again, at least it works, which is more than I can say for cloning.

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Once that job is done, I can upgrade, or replace, the other BDCs and ordinary servers, with Server 2003 installations over the course of several weeks.

Why? Because, if something goes wrong—and doesn’t it always—I’d rather have just a couple of servers to contend with than the entire network server to troubleshoot.

If you haven’t been using DNS (Domain Name Service) on your network, you’ll need to set it up on at least one server. AD (Active Directory) requires DNS to resolve AD domain, site, and service names to IP addresses. You can use any version of DNS on any operating system, Linux, W2K (Windows 2000) or Windows Server 2003 DNS. On a primarily Windows-based network, I prefer to run DNS on Server 2003 AD and DNS on the same machine.

You’re also going to be creating Containers that will hold your NT users, computers and groups. These objects are named Users, Computers, and something called Builtin.

No doubt, you can guess what it’s in the first two but “Builtin” requires a bit of explanation. Builtins contain NT4’s “built-in” local groups, like Administrators and Server Operators. These are the unique NT 4 local and network groups that you’ve set up, like the ‘Accounting Guys from DC’ or ‘Pittsburgh Marketeers’ that are placed in the Users folder.

Next Page: Configuring the functional levels of your Server 2003 forest

     
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