Last spring, several vendors and I did a series of 1-day storage-focused seminars that demonstrated how to migrate from Windows NT Server and Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5 to Windows 2000 and Exchange 2000 Server. We demonstrated several migration scenarios that used third-party tools and wrapped the entire migration project in a server and storage consolidation project. By focusing on storage, we showed the audience how to cut costs, improve performance, improve availability, and reduce management headaches involved in a migration project. The same principles and software can help you migrate from NT to Windows Server 2003 and Exchange Server 2003.

Step one in a migration project is to get a good handle on the servers and files that you're managing in your current environment. You can use a third-party tool to evaluate your current files, users, permissions, and other elements. You can also use the migration tool included with Windows 2003. (For information about using the migration tool that comes with Windows 2003, see "Active Directory Migration Tool 2.0," page 67.) After you've assessed your current environment, you can determine the type of storage system you'll need in the new environment. Microsoft's Windows Storage Server—based Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices, which are available from many hardware partners, typically let you replace seven NT file servers with one Windows Storage Server 2003—based NAS box. If you combine NAS with a Storage Area Network (SAN), you can migrate your file server data and your Exchange server data to the same storage device. (By using a SAN, you can optimize Exchange storage; in fact, Microsoft doesn't support putting an Exchange store on a NAS device, so the Microsoft-supported method for storing both file and application data with one storage system is to use a SAN and NAS combination device.)

The second step in the migration project is setting up a file- and message-level recovery system. In our demonstration, we used a third-party backup and recovery system. With this system, we backed up NT systems to a Windows Storage Server NAS device. At any time, we can restore a single Exchange Server email message. This level of backup and recovery is crucial in a migration project. After you're done with your migration project, you'll probably redeploy those NT boxes as workstations somewhere in your environment. Inevitably, 3 months after you've completely migrated from Exchange 5.5, your VP of marketing will ask you to restore a few messages from Microsoft Outlook that he deleted 3 months ago—on Exchange 5.5. CommVault Systems' Galaxy lets you restore single messages and can restore those messages directly into the new Exchange 2003 environment. You don't need to restore the entire Exchange Server mail store; you can recover just the messages your user needs. That's the kind of migration insurance you need.

Step three in your migration project is to run the file server and Exchange Server migrations, a task for which a third-party tool really helps. Third-party vendors have baked a lot of real-world experience into their migration software. These software products will handle most of the problems you'll encounter—problems the companies have already solved through migration experience. The ability to migrate to Windows 2003 and Exchange 2003 in phases while keeping your old and new system in sync is key. You need to eliminate the work-all-weekend-and-pray-that-users-can-work-on-Monday syndrome that's typical with do-it-yourself migrations. With third-party tools, you migrate, test, and undo if the migration doesn't work. You keep the old and new environments in sync until you're ready to make the final cutover. The third-party tools also take care of the changes needed at the client level—permissions, authentications, pointers to new servers, Active Directory (AD), and group policies. (For a list of third-party tools for migrating from NT or Win2K to Windows 2003, go to http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2003/upgrading.)

The next step is to replicate all your remote office data to a central location for easier backup and recovery. One of your project goals is to eliminate the backup window by using Windows 2003 Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS), sophisticated backup and recovery tools, and third-party replication tools. You should be able to back up and recover at any time during the day and keep your data 100 percent protected. (For information about using VSS, see "Volume Shadow Copy Service," April 2003, http://www.winnetmag.com, InstantDoc ID 38282.)

For mid-range to high-end environments, the result of a migration and server consolidation project is a more reliable storage architecture using clustered NAS boxes as a front end to an integrated SAN. For low-end environments, you'll end up with clustered NAS boxes, which increase performance and reliability.

In current cost-sensitive IT environments, you might have trouble justifying a Windows 2003 migration as a standalone project. However, if you wrap up your migration project in a server and storage consolidation project, you can find the cost savings you need to make the move.