From Chapter Three: The Windows Culture

What's most striking about this virtual tour of a Wintel data center circa 2002/3 is how far out of date it now seems - and, at the same time, how little has actually changed.

This is the 31st excerpt from the second book in the Defen series: BIT: Business Information Technology: Foundations, Infrastructure, and Culture

Note to readers: in reviewing this stuff myself I'm struck by both how much and how little has changed since 2002/3. I'm thinking this whole Wintel culture thing needs revision - and one of those revisions might be a second tour, focused on the situation in 2008/9. Comments on change would therefore be of particular interest.

The 2002/3 Windows data center tour

Scale and Budget

John McArthur has the title Manager: Desktop Services at Domino Mutual Insurance, but he's actually more of a contract co-ordinator than a systems manager.

Approximate budget (Dollar amounts in Millions)
  FTE committed Fiscal 2002 Projected 2003
IBM Desktop Services Contract 4 $37.5 41.0
Development 25 $3.5 4.0
Capital Acquisitions 4 $15.5 $16.0
Additional Licensing 1 $21.0 $4
Direct Support Staff 30 $2.8 3.0
Total (excludes network billback as a flow through) 64 $80.0 $68.0

There are about 1,500 head office desktops divided almost equally between two buildings, approximately 14,500 desktops spread across about 1,600 sales offices, and just over 1,750 NT 4.0 or Windows 2000 Servers.

Each office has at least one PC server rack running Microsoft small business edition server, all now under Windows 2000 Server. Most of the remainder are in the two headquarters buildings or the data center and generally run Windows 2000 Advanced Server under a licensed application like SQL-Server, Outlook, or Exchange.

Eighteen units, however, continue to run NT 4.0 Server and are physically in the data center where they act as EDI or other gateways linking the mainframe platform with outside users.

Printing supplies are handled from user budgets with local purchasing where possible, although IBM physically maintains the printers, all from Lexmark, under its general services contract on desktop support.

Desktop support for about 1,600 sales offices and two headquarters buildings, totalling nearly 15,000 desktops, is handled via an out-sourcing contract with IBM Global Services. This contract provides for help desk services and includes an evergreen policy under which IBM updates the hardware to ensure its continuing compatibility with software needs.

The evergreen policy applies only to hardware and software purchased from IBM. Thus Microsoft's licensing 6.0 initiative in early 2002 fell outside the agreement and created a need to borrow from next year's budget via a special allocation approved by the finance vice president. The three year licensing resulting from the agreement with Microsoft is expected to stabilize upgrade license costs for the core operating system and office applications but will result in additional stress on the Windows support organization.

In particular the PC support group has been held back by budgeting and related planning considerations to the point that many client applications, originally developed for Windows 3.11 and ported to NT 4.0 Server in the late nineties, are only now being migrated to Windows 2000. Under licensing 6.0, however, Microsoft can force the company to adopt Windows/XP before the original expiry date for Windows 2000 desktop support - April, 2003.

Already IBM has warned that the recent cancellation of their OEM rights to install dual Windows 2000 and Windows/XP boot options on new gear will force them to place Windows/XP on all new gear shipped to Domino offices after June 1st, 2003. With XP installed, support staff can then use the Microsoft license downgrade option to install Windows 2000 instead, but long term support for that environment is fading and the client conversion process must, accordingly, be both revised and expedited.

To that end John is currently the largest employer of contractors in the data center, with 24 full time consultants on site. These people are working with the new tools, particularly Visual Basic Studio 6.0, to rewrite all Windows client software in time to avoid having to first upgrade to Windows/XP to maintain license validity, and then re-install Windows 2000 via the downgrade license option to maintain operational compatibility with the mainframe applications.

Like network management, which is handled by the data center's Network Services Manager via a contract with IBM Global Services, this development process is a continuing source of friction between John's people and the mainframe community in the data center. In this conflict the contractors accuse the mainframers of dragging their heels and the mainframers see the contractors as unprofessional, leaving John caught between them.

Some notes:

  1. These excerpts don't (usually) include footnotes and most illustrations have been dropped as simply too hard to insert correctly. (The wordpress html "editor" as used here enables a limited html subset and is implemented to force frustrations like the CPM line delimiters from MS-DOS).

  2. The feedback I'm looking for is what you guys do best: call me on mistakes, add thoughts/corrections on stuff I've missed or gotten wrong, and generally help make the thing better.

    Notice that getting the facts right is particularly important for BIT - and that the length of the thing plus the complexity of the terminology and ideas introduced suggest that any explanatory anecdotes anyone may want to contribute could be valuable.

  3. When I make changes suggested in the comments, I make those changes only in the original, not in the excerpts reproduced here.