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Microsoft touts NT scalability

Microsoft senior researcher James Gray tries to persuade Windows NT devotees that the operating system will soon be ready to take on Unix.

SAN FRANCISCO--Microsoft (MSFT) senior researcher James Gray crawled out of his lab to persuade Windows NT devotees at the Windows NT Intranet Solutions conference that the operating system will soon be ready to take on Unix.

Citing the company's focus on high-end features such as clustering software and transaction servers, Gray told a half-filled hall that the NT 5.0 operating system--which will debut next month at a developer's conference in San Diego--is ready to handle large environments, as well as layouts requiring "thick" servers to service "thin" clients.

"We're heading toward a world where we'll have billions of clients," said Gray, noting the variety of devices that will soon contain an OS. "In that world, there will be a huge demand for servers."

Windows NT 5.0 Workstation will offer a tool called IntelliMirror that gives users the choice of saving their files to a server as well as a cache on local disk. This method requires large servers, since the server and workstation communicate to resolve versions of files before a user can access their data. NT is also expected to play a significant role as Net PC computers roll out.

Gray also acknowledged NT's current limitations, but he said that on a price and performance basis the OS offers a compelling reason to switch from Unix systems. He also said clustering--a method to string together server computers to act as one system--will be the key in providing large NT computers.

The researcher said that Windows NT Server Enterprise Edition will ship within the month. The souped-up derivative of the base operating system includes the company's Cluster Server, transaction server, and message-queuing technology. Other enterprise versions of the SQL Server database and Exchange will arrive before the end of the year. A server, code-named Hydra, that allows a variety of clients to access an NT server will also ship before year's end, he said.

At a press conference following the presentation, Gray said current Intel bottlenecks in bus technologies for servers are the primary barrier facing Windows NT scalability.

"It's a serious problem right now," he said. "Software is limited by physics."

"Other Unix vendors cleared those bottlenecks earlier," he said, referring to the high-speed bus technologies that ship with many Unix-based systems from Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard.