On December 31, 2004, Microsoft will cease supporting Windows NT 4.0. Although some pay-per-incident support options will be available to certain corporations (under limited conditions) after that date, shops that run NT 4.0 will need to make a choice. Are you ready? Here's what you need to know about NT 4.0 end-of-life planning.

Application Migration
Organizations that still run NT 4.0 in live environments do so for many reasons, but one important reason is that NT 4.0 runs crucial applications--including in-house custom applications--that haven't been ported to more modern environments. Before planning a migration strategy, you need to determine whether these applications will run on a more modern Windows version.

If your applications won't run on a modern system, you might consider a virtual machine (VM) environment, such as Microsoft Virtual Server 2005, VMWare GSX Server, or VMware ESX Server. These products let you host one or more guest OSs under one host OS. To the VM, the guest environment is a real PC, and because many of today's NT 4.0 boxes are ancient by today's performance standards, you probably won't notice a performance hit.

Move Infrastructure Services to Modern Systems
NT 4.0 is no longer an option for running infrastructure services such as DNS, DHCP, or file and print serving, so you should consider moving those services to more modern systems, such as Windows Server 2003 or Linux. NT 4.0 systems that run crucial security applications likely need to be upgraded.

Recommendations
Through its partner, BITS Financial Services, Microsoft will offer limited support for NT 4.0 after December 2004, but only on a pay-per-incident basis and only to customers who submit an approved migration plan. Your best bet is to ditch NT 4.0 as quickly as possible: As these systems move further from the mainstream and aren't updated with critical security fixes, they'll become a liability to your company. You can consolidate many single-use NT 4.0 servers on one Windows 2003 server or migrate those environments to VMs. NT 4.0 was a great solution in its day, but that day has passed.