Can NT Scale Up?

Microsofts server version has scalability problems.

Windows NT is a server operating system that also has a version for the desktop. Microsofts stated plan is to ultimately merge all desktop systems into one Windows NT for business computing. "The Microsoft message is very clear," Bill Gates told attendees at a Mar. 6 Microsoft/Intel Corp. press conference on the two firms move into the workstation market. "The business desktop will migrate to NT, and over time NT will totally dominate the business desktop." He might be right. But the server version of NT is experiencing a little more difficulty taking over enterprise-level computing than Windows did on the desktop. "There are some problems that have to be solved before NT can take over," says George Macintyre, executive vice president of MCSB Technology Corp., which makes a product called AutoPilot that enhances NT performance. Many corporate computer users say NT lacks robustness for enterprise tasks, which typically are done on more powerful UNIX- or mainframe-based systems. "For simple transactions, you can run fairly high volumes with NT," says Roger Covey, CEO of System Software Associates Inc., a leading enterprise- resource- planning (ERP) software firm in Chicago. "But try to update eight files at once, and it comes right to its knees. Eventually, though, Microsoft will get this right." "It is fundamental to our business model to push the scalability of NT," Steve Ballmer, executive vice president at Microsoft, said at a recent press conference. The company claims the next version of NT, expected out later this year, will have these issues solved. Others think it will take longer. "We believe the scalability problems with NT will be gone by the end of 1999," says Dick Cook, president and CEO of Mapics Inc., an ERP software firm in Atlanta. "And we dont believe midsized manufacturers will be willing to trust their business to NT until those scalability issues are solved. You cant risk your business on information technology that isnt tried and true." NT falls short, experts say, when used to support high volumes of complex data inquiries, such as those made by business decision-makers, to a large corporate database or data warehouse. It also is lacking for data-intensive Web servers, they say. For these reasons, many corporations have elected instead to use the NT server operating system for applications processing, leaving the heavy-duty data crunching for the more reliable UNIX server-operating system. Microsofts own bullish projections are for growth of 40% per year through 2001 versus what it estimates will be just 2% growth per year for UNIX systems over the same period. In fact, most nonmainframe enterprise applications today are UNIX-based. This rival system simply has a far bigger installed base worldwide than NT. While some software companies such as SAP AG are selling NT versions of their wares like crazy, others say the opposite. "We dont have many customers asking for NT," says Theresa Sheridan, president and CEO of the Americas unit of Industrial & Financial Systems, an ERP software company based in Tucson. "The reason is that NT is sort of an unknown. If you are going to run 300 users, are you going to consider NT? No, not for 300 users. For our customers, HP-UX [Hewlett-Packard Co.s brand of UNIX] is the popular platform." Dunlop Tires enterprise applications from Oracle Corp. run on UNIX-based Sun Microsystems servers. "We run a lot of smaller applications on NT," says CIO Dennis Courtney. "We did not consider NT for our core mission-critical applications. We decided to stick with UNIX because its more industrial-strength, reliable, and robust from a backup and [data] recovery standpoint, and its also more scalable, so we can incrementally change servers without worrying about massive upgrades." Thats not to say that NT sales arent growing by leaps and bounds, because users find NT more economical. Dunlop made the decision to go with UNIX in 1993, Courtney adds. "If we sat down today and looked at replacing our mainframe computers, NT would have strong consideration." But with an already installed base of UNIX machines, Dunlop isnt ready to make a big change again any time soon. NT is better suited for departmental as opposed to corporate-wide uses, some observers say. For instance, Dunlop uses NT as the platform for a sales-force-automation system. Adds IFS Sheridan, "We have one customer that has 30 users, and for them NT is vastly cheaper [than UNIX] running on a Compaq box."

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