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Nasdaq giving Windows NT a chance

The technology-heavy stock exchange is implementing the operating system for its new stock monitoring system.

Windows NT will finally get its chance to bat in the major leagues.

The Nasdaq Stock Exchange is implementing Microsoft's Windows NT operating system for its new stock monitoring system, an application that has to handle huge daily transaction volumes.

The Nasdaq recently commissioned consulting firm Micro Modeling Associates and Unisys to test whether NT could handle the exchange's new Surveillance Delivery Real-Time application. The software monitors the market's billions of transactions and alerts Nasdaq officials to any unusual activity.

"Billion-share days are becoming increasingly common, stressing our existing surveillance system," said Gregor Bailar, chief information officer of the Nasdaq's parent company, the National Association of Securities Dealers. "Any new system also will need to be able to support a $2 billion day with the capacity to scale up to support a 4 billion-share day."

So far, NT is passing the tests. Questions and concerns in the marketplace about NT's ability to handle large loads as well as its reputation for instability have kept Microsoft from conquering the Unix market, a much more reliable system but often more difficult to use.

Microsoft recently held a "scalability days" event to prove to the world, or at least potential corporate buyers and skeptical industry watchers, that its product could play in the major leagues.

But few companies were willing to bet their businesses on NT--until now.

Nasdaq does, however, have a personal stake in seeing Microsoft succeed. The Nasdaq's chief rival, the New York Stock Exchange, has reserved the symbol "M" in hopes of one day luring the world's largest software company to its trading board.

But that's not to say the Nasdaq is willing to blindly invest in the marquee name on its market roster without proof that Microsoft's product can handle the job. The study was conducted using actual daily trading with two parallel systems processing the same data. The test involved running 800 transactions per second continuously for an equivalent of eight trading days.

The results showed that NT running on clustered Unisys servers could "support peak conditions over an extended period," according to executives involved in the test. "It also "provided analysts with alerts within 200 to 700 milliseconds, well within the 2-second requirement; showed that the system could remain 100 percent available even under stress, and demonstrated instant recovery from all failure tests with no data loss and immediate availability of the backup system."

Software for the test included Windows NT 4.0 Server Enterprise Edition, Microsoft Messaging Queue Server 1.0, Microsoft Transaction Server 2.0, and Microsoft SQL Server 6.5. Hardware consisted of Unisys XR/6 servers with 10 processors and 2 gigabytes of memory, running parallel.

With the test complete, the Nasdaq has charged Micro Modeling with the job of designing the new MarketWatch software system around the NT platform, which is to be fully implemented in the year 2000.