Migration Unifies Far-Flung Users

Moving to a new OS is half the battle; you've got to win users' hearts and minds, too

Jason "Jase" Wilkins never met a migration challenge he couldn't handle. Before he assumed his current post as Head of Information Technology for Xstrata, a $10.5 billion international mining company based in Zug, Switzerland, Jase spent 10 years as a consultant with Siemens Business Services, honing his skills by performing migrations for the outsourcing firm. He was well prepared to negotiate what was perhaps his biggest migration project to date: Take more than 5000 desktops and servers running a diverse group of OSs, networking, and email platforms located at 100 locations—and move them all to Windows Server 2003, Exchange Server 2003, and a single global Active Directory (AD) 2003 forest. And, of course, do it all without disrupting business operations, which occur 24 × 7 in offices, plants, and mines all over the world, from Argentina to Europe to Queensland, Australia. With the help of IT professionals at Xstrata's diverse business units, Jase pulled off the migration in less than 1 year, skillfully negotiating both technical and business challenges along the way.

Why Migrate?
Xstrata comprises five distinct commodity business units, such as coal, copper, and zinc, each of which housed a patchwork quilt of computer systems before the migration. "Xstrata's grown rapidly through acquisition, and we've acquired lots of companies with different technologies," says Jase. The acquired companies had systems running Novell NetWare, Windows NT Server 4.0, Windows 2000, and various versions of Exchange Server and directory services, all in different domains.

The impetus for the migration was to standardize the thousands of disparate systems so that Xstrata users could work together and share information easily. "We wanted to have a global email system, which would let people schedule online and communicate around the world," Jase says. The Xstrata business units also needed to transfer financial information efficiently. Before the migration, such data sharing was a "nightmare" because user accounts under the various OSs and networks weren't synchronized. For example, a user might have Windows passwords in London and another set of passwords for accessing Windows and NetWare servers in South Africa. "We wanted users to log on to the network once and access anywhere their account has permission." The lion's share of Xstrata's Help desk calls occurred because of OS or email discrepancies: users who forgot their passwords, couldn't print on the network, or received nondelivery reports (NDRs). "For us, the main reasons to migrate were to stabilize the OS, enable collaboration, and reduce support calls," says Jase.

Jase was well aware of the complexity—and costs—involved with a migration the size of Xstrata's. He got estimates from several systems integrators, but their proposed implementation costs and lengthy timeframes were unacceptable. "Purely by fluke," says Jase, "I stumbled across a company called Aelita \[now called Quest Software\] on the Internet." He investigated the company's migration products, spoke to Aelita representatives, got a price quote that he knew his CEO would approve, and performed the first, pilot migration in December 2003.

Migration in Stages
Jase freely credits the migration products Xstrata used—Aelita Exchange Migration Wizard, Aelita Domain Migration Wizard, Quest Migration Manager for Active Directory, and Quest NDS Migrator—with turning what could have been a complicated ordeal of shifting around applications and people into an essentially turnkey operation. "The \[Quest\] toolset enabled us to do a seamless, low-cost, low-impact migration of the different technologies," he says. Because Xstrata's business and mining operations essentially never cease, one of Jase's unique challenges was to fit the migration around users' schedules. "The toolset let us migrate users at will; we didn't have to take a 'big bang' approach, which fit in nicely with our business."

Jase and his Global IT Projects Manager Ian Woolsey worked closely with corporate and business IT staff in planning and performing the migrations. Quest also sent a consultant to the main commodity business unit sites, who helped perform the initial migration, then handed off the project to the local IT staff. At some sites, IT replaced old servers with new hardware, which often had to be done concurrently with the migration because the sites couldn't afford any downtime. "We'd bring in three or four servers and run them parallel to the existing servers," says Jase, "then migrate the site and switch off the old servers."

Within 3 months of the pilot migration, Xstrata had migrated about 80 percent of the 4400 PCs included in the project's original scope. During the migration, Xstrata acquired the Australia-based Mount Isa Mines (MIM), which brought another 1000 computers into the project. By July 2004, all the machines had been migrated except for the MIM systems, which will be migrated by early January 2005.

A Spoonful of Sugar
Whether you have dozens, hundreds, or—as in Jase Wilkins's case—thousands of users, your migration's success depends as much on their cooperation as on tools and technical expertise. Perhaps the toughest migration problem Jase encountered was gaining the trust of one of the business unit IT directors. "It took me 6 months to build a relationship and gain their trust," he says. His strategy was simple: Use a small, successful project to win the IT organization's trust and respect, so that they'll work with you on the larger project. Jase installed a firewall and a mail-relay product, and when the skeptical IT director saw the products' effectiveness, he was sold on the migration. "After we installed the security products," Jase says, "the business unit IT people said, 'We can't believe how efficiently and effectively you installed these different technologies. We want to use your way of doing the AD migration in our business unit.' I'd won them over."

Jase also had to cajole his superiors in the Zug and London offices into temporarily relinquishing their computers so that IT could migrate them all at once. "We actually bribed them," he says. "We told the head-office people, 'If you want a Blackberry, you need to be on AD 2003 and Exchange 2003; if you're not, you can't have one.' So they said, 'We'll be in the office!', and they all came in on the same day to be migrated."

It's All Good
Jase—and Xstrata's 10,000 computer users—are happy with the migration's results. Support calls are drastically reduced, users' passwords are always in sync, and email is reliable, even for the "road warriors"—mobile employees who sometimes must connect to corporate email in places where even dialup service isn't always reliable. Standardizing on a single OS, email platform, and directory lets IT concentrate on supporting business processes instead of continually trying to meld a mishmash of older technologies. "We want to focus on where IT can really add value," says Jase—for example, providing mine-production statistics to plant and shipping managers. The migration has also enabled Xstrata to consider implementing collaborative technologies such as an intranet and Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server, to further improve information sharing among Xstrata's worldwide users. "To share information, you have to have a standardized system," says Jase. "We now have worldwide collaboration, which we couldn't have had without the migration."

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