Microsoft Adds a Year to NT Server 4.0 Support

Users feeling upgrade pressure get a reprieve, but extension doesn't cover all support options

Microsoft Corp.'s confirmation last week that it will extend key support provisions for Windows NT Server 4.0 through 2004 provided a reprieve for companies feeling pressure to move off the aging operating system.

Many corporate users that are still running Windows NT Server 4.0 said the end of support was the primary reason for their decisions to either migrate off the operating system or plot their upgrade options. Microsoft had announced in October that the extended support phase for NT Server 4.0 would cease at the end of 2003.

"This gives me more breathing room. Like all IS organizations, we're just massively resource-constrained," said Randy Truax, manager of technical services at Metropolitan Health Corp. in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Metropolitan has 54 Windows NT 4.0 servers running health care, financial and supply chain applications, as well as SQL Server and various utility tools. Plans call for the IT department to determine the fate of those servers by the time the organization's new fiscal year starts July 1.

Truax said he's now more inclined to take a closer look at Windows Server 2003, which is due out in April, and to consider the possibility of skipping the Windows 2000 Server release entirely.

Jon Dell'Antonia, vice president of IT at OshKosh B'Gosh Inc. in Oshkosh, Wis., said the support extension may allow him to push into 2005 the migration of roughly 150 Windows NT servers that sit in the back rooms of stores.

So far, support hasn't been a worry for Dell'Antonia because the vendor for his company's point-of-sale systems, Datavantage Corp. in Cleveland, pledged to support Windows NT if Microsoft didn't.

For many companies in the midst of migrations, the extension isn't expected to have a significant impact on plans.

Financial services firm KeyCorp in Cleveland has migrated roughly 450 Windows NT servers to Windows 2000 Server and already has a strategy to move its remaining 1,350 NT boxes to Windows 2000. Ann Louis, vice president of enterprise technology operations, said KeyCorp will continue on its planned conversion path.

'A Little Leeway'

A technical architect at a large insurance company said the IT department had set a "hard date" to be off Windows NT Server by year's end, and the support extension merely provides "a little leeway."

"I doubt we'll change the date, but it's nice to have the margin," he said.

Although Microsoft's decision to tack on an additional year of support for Windows NT Server was generally lauded by users and analysts, the extension doesn't cover all of the company's support options. Pay-per-incident and security "hot fixes" will be available through Dec. 31, 2004, but the company will no longer provide nonsecurity hot fixes to premier support holders after Dec. 31, 2003.

A hot fix is a modification to commercially available Microsoft product code to address a specific problem. As of Jan. 1, 2004, any customer wanting a nonsecurity hot fix will have to obtain a custom contract, according to a Microsoft spokesperson.

Bob O'Brien, a group product manager in the Windows server division, said the year-end elimination of nonsecurity hot fixes was "a customer satisfaction and business decision, given we are continuing to see an increase in Windows 2000 deployments coupled with a decrease in NT 4 requests for fixes." He added, "The trend toward migration and consolidation is a better area to focus resources."

How much of an impact the elimination of nonsecurity hot fixes will have remains to be seen. Microsoft acknowledged that corporate users typically request them.

Louis said KeyCorp has requested hot fixes related to Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol and Domain Name System over the past 36 months, and the company will weigh the potential risks that would be corrected with nonsecurity hot fixes and decide what support it will need going forward.

Dwight Davis, an analyst at Boston-based Summit Strategies Inc., criticized Microsoft's decision to fragment the NT Server support extension. He said it could confuse customers and "diminish the glowing aftereffect" that Microsoft hoped to gain from the otherwise positive changes.

The changes will affect many companies. Tom Bittman, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., estimated that 50% to 70% of the Windows server operating system installed base is still NT 4.0.

O'Brien claimed that only 35% to 40% of the Windows server installed base is NT 4.0. He said extending key support provisions was common sense "if you want to have a relationship with these customers for the next seven to 10 years."

Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc., said he thinks Microsoft also has seen customers turn to Linux, based on feedback his firm is getting from clients.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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