Decision Time: Windows Server 2003 Upgrade or Not?

Still on the fence about Windows Server 2003? Vince Barnes outlines the choice IT departments face as NT and Windows 2000 begin to show their age and the Linux siren song wafts through the halls.


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Posted September 30, 2003

Vince Barnes

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That is indeed the question for today's NT or Win2K based IT department. If fact, it's a pretty good question for any IT department to be asking. As with many seemingly simple questions, the path to the answer can be complex and require a lot of consideration. An "Executive Overview" of some key areas of concern can help to shed some light on that path.

The question involves key areas including cost of acquisition and implementation as well as total cost of ownership (TCO), performance considerations including security, reliability, availability and scalability, along with management and operations considerations. It's a pretty safe bet that no IT department is going to be standing still for too long, so the question is not so much whether or not to upgrade as whether or not Windows Server 2003 is the upgrade path to choose. Since the principal visible competitors are the flavors of *nix servers with Linux leading the field, that will be the primary comparate.

If the first part of cost, acquisition, marks the first battle, then Linux probably wins it quite handily. It is perceived as essentially free, which is a tough price to beat. There may be some costs associated with acquiring some particular distribution, but Linux is not typically burdened with the licensing costs that go along with Windows.

According to studies, however, that is where it ends and Linux appears to quite quickly become more expensive than Windows. Staffing surfaces as the main difference. Windows simply requires less, and requires less training.

Analyst firm IDC compared the TCO of Windows 2000 to Linux and concluded that when it comes to network infrastructure, print serving, file serving and security applications, "the cost advantages of Windows are significant: 11-22% less over a five year period." Linux did show a 6% saving in the area of Web Serving, however Microsoft says they are "delivering more to Web server customers by reducing resource requirements and lowering acquisition costs with the release of Windows Server 2003."

Giga Research, a subsidiary of Forrester Research, ran an objective comparison and analysis of portal application development and deployment for .NET on Microsoft Windows and J2EE on Linux. Their report describes a "Total Economic Impact" (TEI) in which they conclude, "Microsoft offers a substantial cost advantage over J2EE/Linux as a development platform for the applications considered."

The cost savings occur largely as a result of Microsoft's tools that "simplified development" which then translates into "lower labor costs for development and administration of custom applications and a faster time to deployment." In some of their sample cases, twenty-five percent lower. Again it would seem that the savings in licensing costs are more than replaced by higher subsequent labor costs.

When it comes to performance, no guessing is required. There have been quite a lot of independent studies and tests on which we can base decisions. One such test, designed by Veritest and audited by Meta Group, studied IBM's claims about running Linux on their mainframes to consolidate Windows servers, especially for file serving and Web serving.

The test used SuSE Enterprise Linux 8.0 as the operating system, the VeriTest NetBench 7.03 benchmark against Samba for file serving, and the WebBench 4.1 benchmark against Apache for Web serving. The results demonstrated that "mainframe Linux performed poorly on standard file-sharing and Web-serving benchmarks -- between 20 and 300 percent below that of Windows Server 2003 on the VeriTest study."

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