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.

By Vince Barnes | Posted Oct 9, 2003
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Windows Server 2003 — to upgrade or not to upgrade? That is indeed the question for today's Windows NT- or Win2K-based IT department. In fact, it's a pretty good question for any IT department to be asking right now. As with many seemingly simple questions, the path to the answer can be complex and can require a great deal of consideration. An "Executive Overview" of some key areas of concern can help shed some light on that path.

The question involves numerous key issues, including cost of acquisition and implementation, as well as total cost of ownership (TCO); performance considerations including security, reliability, availability, and scalability; and 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 it is whether or not Windows Server 2003 is the upgrade path to choose. Since the principal visible competitors are the various flavors of *nix servers with Linux leading the field, that will be the primary comparate.

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

According to studies, however, initial licensing costs are the only saving grace for Linux in terms of overall cost advantage, as it quickly becomes more expensive than Windows. Cost of staffing surfaces as the main difference — Windows simply requires less management staff, and that staff generally 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 "simplify development," which then translates into "lower labor costs for development and administration of custom applications and a faster time to deployment" — twenty-five percent lower in some of their sample cases. 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 numerous 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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