Whenever there’s a major new product release from Microsoft, you can be sure of one thing: The analyst firms all have to get in their opinions. The recent release of Microsoft’s Windows Sever 2003 was no different.

In the months leading up to release—and reaching a peak during release week in April—most of the major analyst firms, and a number of the second- and third-tier firms, made their opinions known. Much of the discussion involved providing advice on whether companies should migrate to the new server software. Let’s take a look at some of their thoughts.

Directions on Microsoft
As a company that focuses solely on Microsoft, Directions on Microsoft (DOM) is one of the most respected Microsoft watchers. The firm featured a free article on its site, “Should Customer’s Adopt Windows Server 2003?” In the article, DOM declared that the decision to pass or play with Windows Server 2003 is not easy. It points out that the Reviewers Guide for the server is more than 360 pages and lists more than 600 individual feature improvements. To avoid getting lost in the details, DOM analyst Michael Cherry recommended that customers focus on three major areas when making a decision regarding the server:

  • Reliability and security
  • Data center readiness and server consolidation
  • PC management

DOM claims that as far as reliability and security go, Windows Server 2003 is “more stable than previous versions.” It attributes this to the “bottom-up code reviews taken as part of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing push.” However, it cautions that this extra security and reliability “comes at a cost; applications might initially fail due to tightened security, and other applications, such as Exchange, will require upgrades before they will run on Windows Server 2003.”

For data center readiness and server consolidation, DOM claims that Windows Server 2003 is “better positioned than any previous version to run large-scale, critical databases and applications on the increasingly powerful Intel-architecture servers.” It also claims that the server could allow customers to “consolidate many smaller Windows servers onto fewer, more powerful ones running the new operating system.”

But once again, it tempers its statement by pointing out that a customer will still need to “purchase new more powerful hardware to host the server, and consider issues including how the applications will behave when running on a single server, and how to back up the consolidated servers.”

DOM offers the same sort of good news-bad news scenario for PC management with the server. The good news is that “improvements to Windows Server 2003…make it more feasible for companies to centrally manage hundreds or thousands of Windows PCs running Windows 2000 and Windows XP.” The bad news is that “to reap the benefit of reduced ongoing PC administration costs, customers will have to make a significant upfront investment to plan and implement a Windows Server 2003-based network infrastructure.”

DOM also provided another article in February about the new licensing options available for Windows Server 2003. Microsoft still manages to make its licensing terms incredibly complicated: It took DOM 11 pages to describe how the pricing is being simplified. To read the complete text of either of these DOM articles, visit the Analyst Views Windows Server 2003 Focus Report.

Gartner recommends only NT users upgrade soon
Before covering Gartner’s recommendations regarding Windows Server 2003, let’s take a look at what Gartner considers the “notable major improvements” in the product:

  • Enhancements and architecture changes to Active Directory
  • Support for new hardware capabilities, including 64-processor configurations
  • A rewritten Internet Information Server
  • Significantly improved security through efforts to reduce the potential attack surface
  • Scheduler and other performance tuning improvements to increase performance

Gartner goes on to say that although it believes the new server will “prove solid,” it recommends that customers hold off on migrating to Windows Server 2003 because of the sheer volume of changes (remember the 600 revisions mentioned earlier).

It specifically recommends that customers “delay large Active Directory deployments by three to six months.” It also echoes DOM’s comments about the possibility that products from independent software vendors will probably need to be upgraded to work with the new server’s security enhancements. (Analyst Views recommends that potential customers of Windows Server 2003 contact all their software vendors to get the vendors’ official position on testing with and supporting the new server well before making any decisions about migrating to the new server.)

So who does Gartner think should migrate and when?

Windows 2000
Replace Windows 2000 with the new server “gradually as hardware is refreshed.” It claims that “a complete migration from Windows 2000 will not be cost-effective; avoid it unless replacing all hardware on a normal schedule.”

Windows NT
Gartner believes “Windows NT migrations will drive 70 percent to 80 percent of WS03 deployments.” It makes this statement because Microsoft has announced plans to end support for Windows NT by the end of 2004. Gartner’s final recommendation for NT customers is that they “combine their NT migration with a server consolidation and application or infrastructure modernization effort.”

Other noteworthy views on Windows Server 2003
A number of other analyst firms have weighed in on Windows Server 2003. Here are some of the more insightful observations.

Enterprise Application Group
“If friendly vendors succeed in encouraging users to simply reduce the number of Windows servers through data or application consolidation or if competitors are successful in placing Linux servers as replacements, the momentum necessary for broad Windows 2003 and ultimately the .NET Framework will be severely challenged.”

Windows Server 2003 “lacks consistent—or articulated—competitive propositions versus Linux and UNIX. Windows Server 2003 appears to be all about getting the NT 4 base to upgrade after Windows Server 2000 failed to do the job. And where’s the innovation?”

Robert Frances Group
“Windows Server 2003 is a promising release, especially as companies look to secure existing Windows deployments. However, this release is also the final nail in Windows NT 4.0 Server’s coffin.”

Wohl Associates
“There are lots of NT 4 users who badly need to upgrade their servers and, for them, it will be time to go to Windows 2003, skipping the 2000 round entirely. Microsoft will simply need to reassure them that the software is shipping in such good condition that there’s no need for the usual wait, as in the past, for the first round of fixes to be applied.”

To read the full text of these and other Windows Server 2003 analyst firm articles, visit the new Analyst Views Windows Server 2003 Focus Report.