Although Microsoft released Windows Server 2003 to manufacturing Friday, putting the newest server software on track for release in April, its success is far from guaranteed, according to an upcoming report from the Yankee Group.
Fewer than 20% of the companies the Yankee Group surveyed say they plan to install the new server software in the next year, while 34% anticipate adopting Windows Server 2003 at some point.
That adoption rate pales in comparison to long-ago runs toward Microsoft software, said Yankee Group senior analyst Laura DiDio, and lags behind the 30% of the installed base that moved to Windows Server 2000 within 12 months of its release three years ago.
"Microsoft's biggest competitor is itself," DiDio says, citing the reluctance of companies to abandon Windows Server 2000. But as in all things IT, the economy also comes into play. "The sluggish economy, and the inertia that creates, are a major reason why companies are hesitant to move to Server 2003.
"Who thought in April and May of 2001 that we'd still be in a downturn at this point?" DiDio says. "It's been very sobering. The longer the sluggish economic conditions go on, the more cautious companies and IT departments become."
Even so, DiDio characterizes the adoption rate as "pretty good" considering the economy.
That may not warm the cockles of Microsoft's heart, however, when all is said and done. Not when 15% of the 1,000 companies surveyed say they would definitely not upgrade to Windows Server 2003, and fully half say they haven't determined if they will.
Of those companies that say they would not roll out Windows Server 2003, more than 40% say they could find no compelling business justification, while 13% say they can't afford to migrate under Microsoft's new Licensing 6.0 program. Also, 12% say they lack the budget, and 9% say they're moving to Linux as their server operating system.
An overriding concern of moving to Windows Server 2003, DiDio says, has nothing to do with the technology itself, which she notes promises significant increases in reliability over Windows Server 2000 and NT, Microsoft's current server operating systems. Instead, it's the sheer complexity of any server migration. Today's enterprise infrastructure is a complicated dance of not just servers, but legacy and custom applications, driver issues, hardware and bandwidth limitations, Web-services interplay, and security.
To deal with these complications, DiDio urges companies to take a hard look at their operations and put together a compelling business reason for making the move to Windows Server 2003.
The first task, she says, is to come up with an IT report card that marks its performance. "Companies should do a thorough cost-performance analysis of their existing environment," she says, including calculating how much server downtime they've experienced, how much time it takes to manage the network, and whether performance has degraded over time.
Next, companies must develop a business justification for switching server software. "Particularly in this brutal economy, you must make the business case," she says. "If you can't show a tangible return on investment within the first nine to 12 months, you don't have a big impetus to upgrade."
For those companies not convinced that Windows Server 2003 is fit for them at the moment, DiDio recommends that IT staffs start testing the software now, just in case, and create a migration plan to specify which areas of the network would move to Server 2003 first and what equipment has to be retired. Such pretesting and planning is absolutely necessary, she says. "You've got to get it right the first time."