SAN FRANCISCO--People's perspective of Windows NT Server scalability is like parents' view of their rebellious teenager: They accept the nose ring as a phase, but hope the stage passes as
quickly as possible.
What has become clear as Microsoft (MSFT) steps up its enterprise
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marketing efforts for the NT
Server operating system (OS) is that, like patient parents, customers and
industry pundits are willing to discount current claims of
industrial-strength features, knowing that one day Windows NT Server will
be all that the Redmondians say it will.
The scalability Microsoft is boasting combines an increased amount of
processor support for the operating system, add-on features to facilitate
complex database and transaction-intensive uses, and manipulation of
clustering technology to string a number of servers together to create
mini-computer or mainframe-like systems.
Despite Unix variants that offer far greater degrees of processor
support and a wide range of clustering options, Windows NT advocates
continue to claim that criticism of the operating system is unwarranted based on
the level of performance the OS offers for its price.
But in the closing keynote of the Windows NT
Intranet Solutions, Jim Gray, a senior Windows NT researcher at
Microsoft, admitted that "we can do better and we will
The issue of NT's role in the enterprise is on the minds of administrators
and third-party systems companies because the operating system has
propelled itself into network segments, often replacing IBM OS/2
Warp-based machines or Novell NetWare
systems. Observers--and Microsoft--realize the real money will be made in
the midrange, a market segment currently dominated by Unix-based servers
running mission-critical applications and large Web sites.
So, in order to make
a real play, NT must become stronger. And that time may not be
coming soon enough for some.
"It's been kind of an uphill battle, but it seems like there is a lot of
momentum," said Edwin Rutsch, president of the Bay Area Windows NT User Group.
"I can see that it's going to be big so I'm willing to go through the
transition period," said Rutsch, who often wages the NT vs. Unix battle in
arguments with other administrators at work. "So there's bugs. I know
they're going to fix them. I know there's going to be headaches, but I know
Microsoft will eventually solve the problem."
Other NT advocate agreed. "Every day it looks like we made the right
decision. It's obviously the way people are going. It's really
unstoppable," said Avram Cheaney, president of the Pittsburgh Area Windows NT User Group and
administrator for the WiseWire Web
For systems companies that have previously relied on Unix-based solutions
and proprietary systems for profits, the role of NT in their accounts seems
to be growing ever larger. They realize a version of the operating system
that can handle the largest tasks will mean a greater role for their Intel-based hardware.
"We've never looked at NT as some kind of tinker toy," said Keith Karlsen,
assistant vice president for business development at NCR, a systems company making a big NT play.
"We sensed as soon as NT came out that they were focused on making it
"We are absolutely pushing them," Karlsen said of his company's role. "They
will get there. As soon as we'd like? No."
Despite the reality of Windows NT Server's current functionality, Microsoft
has taken pains to promote the fast-growing operating system as ready for
the enterprise, even featuring a plethora of current and upcoming
technology at a widely publicized Scalability
Day in May.
"I don't think Microsoft has a choice," said Roel Pieper, CEO of systems
supplier Tandem Computers, on the
software giant's marketing efforts.
"There's always a little bit to win and a lot to lose," said Pieper,
whose company has also made a big bet on NT growth. "When you ship it too
early, you are in real trouble. Delivering system software is a different
game. Microsoft realizes this and I think they'll learn."
Those who have watched NT since its initial version--when it sputtered
out of the starting gate despite grand predictions from Microsoft CEO Bill Gates--are quick to point out that third parties such as Tandem, NCR, and Data General will be quick to fill the holes that exist in
NT's enterprise play. An
obvious example of this in is the clustering space, where NT's limited
fail-over abilities have already been augmented by value-added software
from these systems giants.
"They, of course, hype it and talk a lot of future stuff," said Dwight
Davis, editorial director at Windows Watcher. "They are well
behind the curve on scalability but now they don't have to do it alone."