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The Cost of Perpetual Upgrading

Contributed by Kyle Miller

Note: the following is an email that we received here at KMFMS on November 24, 2002. It is reprinted with permission.

I have been working in the PC/LAN Support group at a VERY LARGE National data center (The company name will be left anonymous). When I first started working there 90% of the users were using Windows 3.1 or WFWG 3.11. the other 10% was a mix of Win95 & WinNT 3.51. The Server was running Novell 3.11, the Office suite was MS Office 6.0 and the E-mail was MS Mail running on the Novell server.

The goal at that time was to migrate the majority of everyone to Windows NT 4.0 and for users that need to run applications that would not run under NT, they were migrated to Win95. The Office suite we installed was still (the 16 bit) MS Office 6.0 even though Office 95 was out and used the same file formats as MSO 6.0. The reason we did this was due to the fact that there was still a large number of our offices across the nation that had not been upgraded to a 32 bit O/S and that Microsoft was very close to releasing Office 97. Once the majority of the company had been upgraded to a 32 bit O/S, (and Office 97 had still not been released) our concern at the data center was, "Should we upgrade everyone to MSO 95 which at the time would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $80,000.00 for all of the licenses, or should we wait for the release of MSO 97?" (Keep in mind that 90+% of the company is still using MS-Mail running on Novell Servers!) This was actually a decision that would be made at the "Main Office" and when it was learned that the file formats in Office 97 would be completely different, the decision was made to go with Office 95.

A few months after MSO 97 had been released my group started to receive several problem tickets from the data center staff regarding Word & Excel files they had received as attachments in MS-Mail were "Un-Viewable". It didn't take a rocket scientist to quickly realize that the people that were sending the files were using MSO 97! Well the addition of the Word 97 viewer took care of things for short period of time. That is until everyone started to receive a greater number of Excel spreadsheets in 97 format. The number of complaints grew larger and louder as each day went by. Unfortunately our hands were tied. We were going by what was announced to be the "Company Standard" Office Version. When this file incompatibility problem started to seriously effect the upper management at the Data center, the issue went up to the "Main Office" and soon thereafter we were given the go ahead (more like "Drop what we are doing and get it done before the Main Office realizes that it is going to cost ANOTHER $80,000.00!") to upgrade everyone to MSO 97.

HERE IS THE NOT SO FUNNY PART! One would think that we were out of the woods once we got everyone upgraded to MSO 97 right? No sooner than we completed this enormous task we started to get a whole new wave of problem tickets. This time it was due to a problem when a person would receive an E-mail (in MS-Mail) with a any MSO 97 file attached, and they would DBL. Click on it to open it as usual, they would get a message that "The associated program could not be found!" Although, if one was to first manually save the attachment to the local hard drive or to the Novell Server, they could then open the Windows Explorer, locate the file they just saved, DBL. Click on it and it would launch the needed application without any problem! I my self along with another Very knowledgeable person in my group spent several hours trying every trick in the book to get the associations fixed so users could simply launch them from within MS-MAIL! Needless to say we never got it to work. What Microsoft had done, was to somehow disable the ability to open MSO 97 files directly from within MS-MAIL (which was running on our "NOVELL" Server) and of which microsoft was no longer collecting any license fees for because as employees would come and go, we were still within the number of licenses that we had already paid for.

Well guess what we were forced into doing in order to correct this problem. (Start the License counter!) We had to install several Windows Servers (** 1 License for everyone that would be accessing it! Total=1) On these New servers we also had to install MS Exchange Server (** 1 more License for everyone that would have to be migrated into MS Exchange/Outlook! Total=2). Now add the license for the piece of garbage that caused this whole mess and that brings the total to 3 license fee's paid to Microsoft for each user! Not to mention the cost of the new hardware and additional staff to administer the whole thing!

Today everyone at the data center is running WinNT4 and we all log into a PDC/BDC Domain. The server that now handles the file and print services everyone is actually 2 clustered servers. Each node is a Compaq Proliant 6500 with 4 - 400 MHz P-II processors (For a total of 8 processors), 2 Gigabytes of RAM (For a total of 4 Gigabytes of RAM) and each node has Dual Redundant Digital RAID Controllers on a fiber channel bus with somewhere around 200 Gig of storage! Even with all of this, it takes what seems like forever to get logged on to your workstation! The sad part is when I think back to the days of our Novell Server and how Lightning fast everything was. Ready for this one? That Old "RELIABLE" Novell server that only went down 2 times in its last year (and 1 of which was when we were updating Mcafee and were standing right at the console) was also a Compaq Proliant, but it was powered with a single pentium(I) 100 MHz processor and 128 Meg of RAM! Now put that in your Pipe and Smoke It, Microsoft!

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