Next week, the Redmond, Washington-based company will unleash an enterprise edition of its Windows NT Server operating system that includes high-end features the company hopes will make it attractive to a larger contingent of network managers at corporate sites.
The bundled release will include Microsoft Cluster Server, a software service that allows a primary server computer to fail over its OS and applications to a secondary server if there is a problem; Microsoft Transaction Server, a software layer that handles client-to-server transactions in computing-intensive applications such as banking; and Microsoft Message Queue Server, another piece of software that coordinates numerous query requests from the OS to applications. The new version will also support eight-way symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) server hardware.
The package may be attractive to current NT customers, and pilot programs may ensue with the new enterprise edition, according to analysts. But don't expect a groundswell of interest in the high-end OS until the next release, NT 5.0, which is slated to ship by the end of next year, they say.
"I don't think there will be a line at the door at midnight," noted Jon Oltsik, analyst with Forrester Research. "Most of my clients are still doing real low-end things with NT. They may buy an enterprise version and do some testing.
"I don't see any high-end penetration by NT until 1999 at best," he said.
A fierce battle continues to rage between the server OS players. Novell, long a leader in the market, has been fighting the increasing presence of Windows NT Server in its networks. Others, such as the various Unix-based players like Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, Santa Cruz Operation, IBM, and Digital Equipment, continue to insist that Windows NT Server is not ready to take on the intense data crunching that their own Unix systems are used to.
This pitched scrimmage reached new heights once Microsoft weaved a scalability story for press and analysts in New York in May. Since then, some have decided to take a more modular approach to their OS strategy, particularly Sun. Others have noted their own scalability features in advertising campaigns.
"They're trying to develop flavors of the engine for different environments," said Jean Bozman, analyst with market researcher International Data Corporation. "You're seeing everybody doing that a little bit."
Microsoft has been on a repackaging and rebundling kick recently, having already entered beta with a version of its BackOffice suite of applications for small businesses. But analysts note that the server-based OS crowd who might be interested in the enterprise-capable NT will know what they want, minimizing confusion over the bundling strategy.
"The only people who should be considering enterprise edition are businesses who are very knowledgeable and sophisticated users," Bozman said.
According to Oltsik, the segmentation of NT and its related applications for different markets is a smart move, given the internal development it takes to complete the various software. However, the way the company speaks to customers regarding these different versions will be important.
"It's up to Microsoft to send clear messages, which they haven't always done in the past," he said.
Modular OS strategies are nothing new, according to industry observers. IBM is one of several companies that introduced several different versions of an OS based on the same underlying software platform, having initiated a strategy for its AIX brand of Unix in the early 1990s.
What may promote pause within the NT user community is the impending beta version of the Windows NT 5.0 OS. That release, originally scheduled to be formally handed out at the company's upcoming developer's conference, may be pushed back, according to reports, though elements of 5.0--including the long-anticipated Active Directory component of the next version--will appear.
Microsoft officials refused to comment on the release. Pricing for the new version is not yet available, though preliminary data based on figures submitted to the Transaction Processing Performance Council indicate that a 25-user version of Windows NT 4.0 enterprise edition will be priced at $3,999. Microsoft officials have said those figures are preliminary but actual pricing will be in a similar range.