Windows Administration: 1995 vs. 2003

A day in the life of a Windows admin has changed since 1995

You're reading the 100th issue of Windows & .NET Magazine, originally known as Windows NT Magazine, a magazine I helped start in September 1995. As I reread the first issue, I notice that many of the challenges facing NT administrators have changed significantly during the past 8 years. Here, I take a stab at defining the top five concerns, then and now, to see how much the Windows OS has evolved.

Administrators' Top Concerns in 1995

  1. Getting software and hardware to work on NT. In 1995, most desktop software was 16-bit Windows code, most file-server software was written for Novell, and most application server software was written for UNIX or IBM's AS/400. Most hardware was for these platforms as well.
  2. Getting an application to scale on NT servers. NT servers didn't scale well. Rather than administrators piling many applications on a single UNIX or AS/400 server, NT servers multiplied like rabbits around the enterprise.
  3. Dealing with NT's blue screen of death. If you were lucky enough to get a PC Card to work in an NT laptop, you needed only to pull it out while your system was running to create a blue screen of death. Heck, just about any third-party driver would cause a blue screen of death. But IT administrators took solace in the fact that you had to reboot an NT system much less frequently than you did a Windows 95 system.
  4. Getting your company connected to the Internet. Most companies didn't have an Internet connection, so the first issue of Windows & .NET Magazine gave step-by-step instructions for establishing a connection in "Build Your Own Web Site in Less Than an Hour" (, InstantDoc ID 2233). The ease of using NT as a Web server eventually led to the rapid proliferation of Web sites—long before Microsoft released Internet Information Server (IIS).
  5. Buying machines capable of running NT. "The machines that people are buying now are Pentium P75s, P90s, 16MB of RAM, and those machines are very capable of running NT," Bob Muglia, Microsoft's director of NT, said in "Where Is Microsoft Headed?" (, InstantDoc ID 2250). NT's "big" footprint prompted many companies to roll out Win95 on the desktop.

Today, 8 years later, systems administrators are busy with other concerns. Making sure their Windows systems are secure, high-performing, and highly available is key.

Administrators' Top Concerns in 2003

  1. Securing your systems. The success of Windows 2000 and NT has made Windows the most popular business platform and the target of most hackers. Security holes and subsequent patches seem to emerge every day. Microsoft is trying to make implementing security patches easier (e.g., automatic updates for Windows XP), but the process still isn't completely automatic— especially on servers.
  2. Consolidating all the servers that accumulated during the past 8 years. Even as Microsoft discontinues support for NT Server, thousands of NT servers are still chugging away on NT 3.51, a fairly stable system. Many solutions are available for consolidating these systems.
  3. Bullet-proofing your systems. Delivering 99.99 percent uptime is getting easier and cheaper. By now, your production systems are likely clustered. Since the September 11, 2001, attacks, the focus on disaster recovery has been to use replication to make sure you can fail over an entire operation to a hot-site backup.
  4. Implementing a touchless environment. Administrators can deploy desktops and remote office servers without needing to touch users' systems. Group policies, cloning tools, scripting, AD tools, replication, and so on make such deployments possible.
  5. Buying machines capable of running XP. Today, you can easily find a cheap 2GHz machine with 512MB of RAM and a 40GB hard drive. Given the technology market slump, you just need to find the money to replace those old systems.

On final note about scalability: I feel a sense of pride because we've pushed the limits of Windows scalability, and Microsoft has responded, producing systems that scale better. We've built systems on the Windows platform that scale to thousands of simultaneous users. On December 31, 2002, SQL Server 2000 delivered 11,667 transactions per second (tps) on a beta version of Windows Server 2003 64-Bit Edition at a cost of $15 per transaction. Scalability on the Windows platform is no longer a concern.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.