Windows 2000 will launch next week in a blaze of Microsoft marketing, but many companies are adopting a 'wait and see' approach. The product is radically different to NT4 and network managers in the know realise that rolling out Windows 2000 will be anything but trivial. Because of the fundamental system reconfigurations necessary, it is vital to train staff before attempting what could be a painful and expensive upgrade.
Training for Windows 2000 could be a major headache for everyone who is involved in implementing and operating the new software. It has already involved Microsoft in controversy as it emerged recently that from the end of this year, systems engineers will have to take Windows 2000 exams, rather than NT4, to gain their Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) qualification.
Some users and partners claim that the move is an example of Microsoft exerting its muscle to force professionals into sitting Windows 2000 exams. But Microsoft says that MCSE is intended to keep professionals up to speed with the latest technology, so it will be appropriate to phase out NT4 exams by the end of 2000, despite its continuing widespread use.
As yet, however, there seems to be little demand for full blown, hands-on training. This is partly due to the delays on Microsoft's part in launching its software. Training providers, like everyone else, were originally expecting the system to be released last October.
Caution over uptake
Of the certified Windows 2000 courses now available in the UK, the overwhelming demand at present is for training that will provide an overview, rather than the technical nuts and bolts.
At the end-user level, there is no demand at all. This is not surprising, given not only that the software isn't officially out yet, but also the general tendency of corporates not to lead the first wave of implementation of any new system. Instead, uptake of Windows 2000 courses will probably rise steadily over the course of the next year and a half, as large companies begin their upgrade projects.
"Demand is zero," said Graham Scrivener, sales and marketing director of InTuition, which provides end-user IT training for many financial institutions in the City. Scrivener expects this situation to change, but not straight away: "Traditionally, our clients are not shy of upgrading, so most will upgrade, probably not immediately, but within about 18 months."
InTuition's courses cover a wide range of areas relating to new operating systems like Windows 2000. "We will establish a programme, as we did with NT4, to ensure all users work to a common level of competence," Scrivener said. "That covers not just technical build, but also best practice and information policies."
Demand is increasing
Ken Meadley, director of product development at training specialist Aris, which has run six different Windows 2000 courses, said demand is "middling to good". He added that many companies are sending staff on courses not because they intend to roll out Windows 2000 immediately, but because they want to know what the software offers and how much implementation is going to cost.
Meadley said training companies need to be more imaginative about attracting people onto their courses. Aris has recently installed Windows 2000 Professional internally and is demonstrating its own use of the desktop software to customers, as well as offering discounts on the cost of courses.
"Microsoft runs cash incentives, but it is still up to training companies to show they are taking this seriously," he said.
The training providers that are doing the best in selling courses around the new system are those that are focusing on the pre-planning and overview aspects of Windows 2000. IT training provider Learning Tree, for instance, has a series of one-day seminars on planning for Windows 2000 and has added extra dates to its schedule because of demand.
Costing £99, the course is a one-day overview of Windows 2000 and its success with those at a managerial level is a good sign, according to Gillian Brand, marketing manager at Learning Tree. "It's aimed at IT managers and above who are looking for a strategic briefing. With Windows 2000 in particular, it's the forward planning that determines how much you can get out of it," she said.
Learning Tree also anticipates a growing demand for its more technical courses. It is running these courses already, based on the beta version of the new system, mainly around planning and deployment, desktop administration and optimisation.
Training for contractors
While managers seem to be taking stock of their Windows 2000 training needs, another large body of technical staff - freelance contractors - are also evaluating the training situation. For contract staff, having the right technical skills at the right time can make a huge financial difference. Since training is not cheap, contractors need to be sure they are making an investment in specific areas like Windows 2000, when demand for their newly honed skills is going to be high.
Suppliers like Microsoft are keen to encourage IT staff, whether full-time or freelance, to upgrade their operating systems skills. Earlier last year, it announced a £3.1 million subsidy for Windows 2000 training in the UK. This took the form of vouchers that could be used to reduce the price of courses. If you still have unused vouchers, they are only valid until the end of February and Microsoft will not be issuing any new ones.
ICL training subsidiary KnowledgePool, which claims to have been one of the first UK training companies to offer the full Microsoft official curriculum for Windows 2000, is one company that encouraged trainees to take up Microsoft's subsidised training offer for Windows 2000 courses.
The vouchers made a substantial difference, bringing the price of KnowledgePool's five-day course on updating support skills and designing a directory services infrastructure down by £500 to £1,500.
Although the voucher scheme has finished, Microsoft is still running two one-day introductory courses - for the Professional or Server versions - for just £99 each: Preinstalling and Deploying Microsoft Windows 2000, designed for IT professionals responsible for the workstations in an organisation, and Microsoft Official Curriculum course 1594: Installing and Configuring Microsoft Windows 2000 File, Print, and Web Servers. The offer will run until the end of March.
So far, according to Janet Barrett, marketing manager at KnowledgePool, the Windows 2000 courses appeal more to contractors than to permanent staff. "The contractors outnumber the staff three to one," she said. "We believe they realise that five days' training, whatever the cost, is a good investment."
An eye on the future
Training companies like Global Knowledge also have their eye on the situation with Microsoft's MSCE qualification. They are aware that many IT professionals will feel it necessary to retain their MSCE status by taking the Windows 2000 exams, so they are gearing their training courses to this end. Taking the company's 10-day Windows 2000 course, McClintock says, will give professionals enough information to pass the Windows 2000 Active Directory and designing network infrastructure MSCE exams.
While many professionals, both full-time staff and contractors, will be seeking to update their Microsoft skills as Windows 2000 is launched, they are also looking for the most cost-effective training, given the cost of such courses.
You get what you pay for
Prices vary widely, as do training methods, so it pays to shop around. Those charging more for their training courses - which are all based on exactly the same curriculum from Microsoft - tend to emphasise the quality angle, stressing their investment in the necessary hardware to run Windows 2000 properly and ensuring that their own staff are certified in these new areas.
A sudden rush of demand for these courses could see some providers struggling to ensure they have enough fully-certified training staff.
As the numbers of those looking for Windows 2000 training ramp up, this will be an increasing problem. All reputable trainers will provide full certification details of their staff, and it is something that network managers should certainly check carefully before signing up for any training courses.
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