Admins should focus on these key technologies to ramp up for Windows Server 2003

Administrators who will be planning and implementing a Windows 2003 rollout should be trained before the first Windows 2003 server goes online. Here's a look at the primary features admins should focus on as they get up to speed.

When an organization is planning to upgrade to a new server platform, it must also think about upgrading the skills of its IT staff to deploy and maintain the new system. A broad understanding of all the server's features would certainly be invaluable, but it's not realistic to expect all IT staff members to get completely up to speed on every aspect of the new platform—at least, not right away. So it makes sense to initially focus training on the areas that staff members will be involved with during and after deployment. In this article, we'll examine the features that will be most important for admins to master when their organization is upgrading to Windows Server 2003 from Windows NT or Windows 2000.

AD for everyone
For starters, all IT staff should have some training on the ins and outs of Active Directory (AD). AD serves as the basis or support technology for many Windows Server 2003 features, so a fundamental understanding of it is important for every administrator. An extensive knowledge of AD, domain management and trust, and security is crucial for any administrators who will be creating and managing domains, users, and groups.

Here's a look at some other key technologies in which administrators might require training, depending on their specialty and job requirements.

Group Policy
Managing Group Policy requires at least a basic understanding of AD, as well as an extensive understanding of Group Policy. Administrators should know the purpose of Group Policy and what they can achieve using it. They should also be able to create and deploy Group Policy objects, delegate Group Policy administration, and manage security. A good understanding of and background in Windows 2000 and Windows XP is essential, because these client platforms are the targets for Group Policy deployment (Windows 2000 Server and Windows Server 2003 are also targets for Group Policy.)

File systems
All IT staff must be familiar with NTFS and know how to configure permissions on NTFS volumes. Administrators who manage storage should understand the difference between basic and dynamic disks and know how to create and manage partitions and volumes, manage quotas, use mounted volumes, and configure and manage Volume Shadow Copy. In addition, a good understanding of RAID-related topics, such as the creation and management of mirrored and extended volumes, is needed.

Those administrators who will be creating and managing DFS roots and shares must be familiar with AD and the file system topics identified earlier, and they need to have a broad understanding of DFS and replication technologies.

Security applies in a variety of ways throughout the enterprise. The security training that administrators need depends in part on the technologies and features they will manage. Basic AD training is important, as is training in group and user management, IP Security (IPSec), IP filtering, virtual private networking (VPN), IP routing and ports, firewalls, proxies, certificate services and certificate management, and IIS.

Remote access
IT staff members who will manage remote access must be familiar with networking and routing, group and user management, the Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) service, and remote access policies. And, depending on whether they use these features with remote access, they should understand Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service (RADIUS), Internet Authentication Service (IAS), and certificate services.

IIS 6.0, ASP.NET, ADO.NET, and .NET Framework
Because many features rely on IIS, all administrators should have at least a basic understanding of IIS and the security issues that surround it. Those who will manage IIS servers require a deeper understanding, which should include the ability to manage IIS architecture and processes, configure and manage virtual servers, and ensure security for IIS servers. Depending on how your organization uses IIS, administrators might also need a good background in database setup and management, including configuration of ODBC connections.

Terminal Server
Administrators who will manage Terminal Server need to understand Terminal Server itself, as well as the deployment and use of the Remote Desktop client. Security for Terminal Server users is also an important topic.

Any administrator who manages a feature that relies heavily on networking infrastructure should have, at minimum, basic training in network design and protocols. Those who will manage the network need training in network protocols, routing, traffic management, and security topics such as IPSec, firewalls, proxies, and VPN.

Data integrity and disaster recovery
Finally, ensuring data integrity and being able to perform disaster recovery is crucial. Administrators who manage backup and recovery must understand file systems and storage hardware and management, Volume Shadow Copy, backup methods and tools, Automated System Recovery (ASR), and Remote Storage.

Where to start
We've identified the technologies that are most critical to master for a Windows Server 2003 upgrade. Now, we'll look at a few resources that can help IT staff master these technologies, along with some certifications designed to demonstrate the knowledge and skills they acquire.

A host of links
Many resources are available to IT workers who want to learn about Windows Server 2003 in depth. For example, Microsoft's Training and Events page for Windows Server 2003 includes links to Windows Server 2003 assessments, online information, books, and other training materials, as well as information about Windows Server 2003 certification. You'll also find information about other resources, both offline and online.

These Microsoft resources, along with books and training materials from other publishers, offer an excellent means for IT staff to become familiar with Windows Server 2003's features and to learn how to deploy and manage them. However, even though these resources are useful for initial evaluation, they're often not adequate to provide comprehensive training to IT staff except for the most dedicated, self-motivated individuals. That's why many organizations opt for formal training and certification, such as the MCSA and MCSE, to prepare their IT staff to manage newly deployed technologies.

Training resources
Earning a Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) or other certification from Microsoft requires a lot more than simply studying a few key topics and taking a few tests. Successfully completing certification exams requires extensive training in the applicable technologies and features, as well as practical experience in implementing Windows Server 2003.

A broad range of resources is available for training, some leading to certification. Microsoft offers a variety of courses in Windows Server 2003 and its related technologies. You'll find an extensive listing on Microsoft's Web site.

Because many of the courses are tied in with Microsoft certifications, several of the training courses offered by Microsoft require the successful completion of specific exams in a certification track. For example, Microsoft's five-day course—Planning, Implementing, and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Active Directory Infrastructure (Course 2279)—requires the completion of Course 2278, Planning and Maintaining a Windows Server 2003 Network Infrastructure. The cost for such training varies. Check with your local training center for pricing.

Most publishers also offer a line of certification books, so check their Web sites for a complete listing of Windows Server 2003 titles. For example, Sybex recently released its hardcover book, Mastering Windows Server 2003. You can also find Windows Server 2003 practice certification exams from vendors like Transcender, which has several practice exams under development. Microsoft is selling Introducing Microsoft Windows Server 2003 through Microsoft Press. (The author of this article is coauthor of John Wiley & Sons' Windows Server 2003 Bible.)

When administrators have completed most or all of their training, or when they are trying to get a feel for how their existing skills meet the certification requirements, they can use assessment tools to help them gauge their knowledge level. Several training companies provide these tools, and you'll find some at Microsoft's Web site.

Hit the ground running
Having an IT staff that's well grounded in Windows Server 2003's key technologies can mean the difference between a successful deployment and a disastrous one. This is true whether you are attempting a major migration from Windows NT to Windows Server 2003 or simply handling some in-place upgrades of Windows 2000 to take advantage of Windows Server 2003's enhancements. The number of new features in Windows Server 2003—whether Active Directory, file system features, security, or other improvements—means that IT staff may be overwhelmed without the training and resources necessary to understand those features and to deploy and manage them successfully. Targeting the primary technologies that administrators must understand to work effectively with Windows Server 2003 will help ensure that they're prepared to handle planning, deployment, and maintenance down the road.

Editor's Picks