Windows NT: Going, Going, Finally Gone

by Hinesh Jethwani    Jun 26, 2004

After years of speculation, Microsoft’s trusted network computing platform, the legendary Windows NT 4.0, is on its last legs.

The Redmond giant has finally let go of its old horse, and what remains to be seen is whether users would abandon it the same way or not.

The support cut off date is 31st December 2004, and according to a guesstimate, more than 60% of NT users have already migrated. CXOtoday first questioned Microsoft India’s leading partner, Maestros Mediline, to gauge the response of CIOs to the most dreaded word in enterprise lingo: Migration.

Dr. Nitin Paranjape, chairman and managing director, Maestros Mediline Systems, said, “India still has a pretty substantial Windows NT user base that simply cannot be ignored. However, in most companies, the OS is functioning in a heterogeneous networking environment, where it is mainly being used on the non-critical side. These organizations come under the partially migrated segment. There are even a few that are still running their entire network on Windows NT 4.0.”

”The average age of Indian NT boxes is around 5-6 years. Most enterprises are using it as a file server, print server, or as a web server (as it has IIS built in). Microsoft’s announcement that it’s ending the support lifecycle for NT is not the motivating factor behind an upgrade. The single most compelling reason for enterprises to switch is the new feature set that Win 2000/2003 (2x) systems offer. However, because most companies are maintaining a minimum baseline usage of NT, the appeal to migrate has become less,” added Paranjape.

Anand Sengupta, head of information technology, Daikin Shriram Air-conditioning, said, “NT is being used on the ISA and proxy side in our enterprise. Since we have already decided to upgrade from SAP 4.6b to 4.7, it will cause an imminent OS platform switch from NT 4.0 to Windows 2003 by the year-end. Also, as support is being withdrawn on approximately the same date as our planned migration, I will definitely highlight support concerns in a meeting with the management. Migration is a cycle, and at our end it will involve updating our Oracle database as well. Although we do have a Windows 2000 server in addition to the NT boxes, the exact difference between the two architectures still remains to be seen.”

Dismissing the argument that NT 4.0 is still the best choice for users who would not like to throw out their cranky 300 Mhz boxes, Paranjape said, “Since the base server configurations were low at the time when NT was first released, this common misconception still exists in the market. However, users must understand that upgrading NT boxes does not necessarily imply hardware improvements.”

“Since we already have a HP Proliant server with 2GB RAM, there are absolutely no hardware concerns surrounding the NT upgrade,” added Sengupta.

Exuding a different response, N N Chandna, DGM-IT, Jindal Pipes Ltd., said, “We are happy with the performance achieved by using our Ramco ERP system with a SQL Server 7.0 database, running Windows NT 4.0. Since the database server hasn’t required much support over the years, we have no plans of upgrading NT.”

Echoing the same sentiment, Ankush Kaura, GM-IT and SAP, Osram India Ltd., said, “We would still like to stick with Windows NT, as we are satisfied with its performance and support has never really been an issue to contend with. We have deployed our SAP 4.6b application server on the NT platform, and it runs our Internet Transaction Server (ITS). However, on the mail server end, we do have MS Exchange 2000 running on a Win 2K platform.”

And convincing customers to opt for newer features doesn’t come easily. Paranjape lamented, “Most customers dismiss new features without fully knowing their capabilities. Most of the time nobody is noticing the excellent feature set that vendors are building into newer systems. Enterprises base their ROI calculations on used features, so an extra function set is seen as a liability by many.”

So will the support withdrawal see a beeline of customers at Microsoft’s doorstep? Paranjape replied, “People are worried, and they definitely perceive the need to take action. With security threats gaining importance on every CIOs agenda, the compulsion to upgrade has become even more prominent. Win 2x systems have been designed by Microsoft keeping Internet security primarily in mind. Enterprises must realize that although migration is optional, security is mandatory.”

Detailing the security enhancements of Windows 2x over Windows NT, Paranjape explained, “Lets take the basic example of shared folder settings. In NT, the share permissions that allowed multiple network users to view a remote folder were set to ’everyone’ by default. In Win 2x, the user is compelled to select the users who would be granted access to the shared folder. It’s a simple enhancement that takes care of internal security.”

“How many support calls on Windows NT have been actually escalated to Microsoft by integrators today? I can recollect only 2-3 stray incidents where Microsoft India had to actually develop hotfixes for exceptional support problems that we encountered with certain NT users. The withdrawal of support becomes more of a mental worry, and seeing the practical side of it, if one hasn’t faced any scenarios where support calls had to be escalated to Microsoft for developing hotfixes, why bother upgrading?” explained Paranjape.

“As system integrators, the onus of spreading awareness to upgrade rests solely on us. Vendors can only create features, but it’s our responsibility to finally map them at the customers end. We shall continue to support NT users from our side, but obviously escalation calls will not be entertained because Microsoft has made its decision,” concluded Paranjape.

The issue of NT migration still remains optional, but CIOs making the switch will have to contend with the challenging task of application porting. Rewriting software is a painful process, and most CIOs would prefer to leave their machinery untouched. So the question that remains to be answered is: “Will they, or wont they?”