Make NT work for you--even if it's not your only OS

IT managers are learning to make good use of Microsoft's Windows NT, sometimes running it side-by-side with other operating systems in a quest for the least expensive, most effective use of computing resources.

In this article:
At a Glance: Piper Jaffrey Companies
Graph: Few key apps will run on NT
Unix closes the price gap
Graph: NT will top Unix by 1999
Lessons learned from implementing NT
Whether or not you buy into the vision of a future NT that will bring you uniformity, lower costs, and peace on Earth, you're still faced with a big puzzle in the here and now: Where to make today's NT work for you.

Many of your colleagues are making NT work by implementing it alongside other operating systems, with NT functioning as a Web server and a file-and-print server while UNIX handles mission-critical applications. But NT's relatively minor role these days is misleading: With every passing year, NT is making greater inroads into systems dominated by older, more stable technologies. And a number of companies--generally the younger ones--are relying fully on NT, even for bet-the-business applications.

John Husemuller "You can hire 15 NT guys off the street for the cost of a few UNIX people," says John Husemuller, an NT engineer and team leader at Piper Jaffray.
Photo by Steve Woit/SABA
Minneapolis-based Piper Jaffray Companies, which is the nation's 11th-largest investment bank and is being acquired by U.S. Bancorp, is among the organizations where NT and UNIX coexist. Piper Jaffray sports 200 NT servers that perform a range of functions, from supporting small SQL databases and SNA connectivity to the mainframe to handling systems management for the desktop. The NT servers are augmented by 25 UNIX servers that handle databases and other large-scale applications.

Piper Jaffray chose NT for bottom-line reasons: NT 4.0 costs a little more than $1,100 for a 10-user setup. It's difficult to pin down a per-desktop cost for the typical implementation of UNIX, but many analysts agree with John Husemuller, an NT engineer and team leader at Piper Jaffray, who says: "UNIX is just more expensive." Support for NT is less expensive, too: "You can hire 15 NT guys off the street for the cost of a few UNIX people," Husemuller says. And ease of training on NT has helped Piper Jaffray create a "really aggressive help desk," according to Husemuller. End-user queries that are successfully handled by the help desk mean fewer trips to end-user desktops by IT personnel.

But Husemuller readily acknowledges that NT "is not the most stable of products," and that scalability is a problem. NT "doesn't scale very well. It's really less than scalable," he says. "Microsoft's solution is to throw a lot of servers at a problem, which creates a network management problem." More servers mean more dollars, so NT often becomes a more expensive proposition than planned.

AT A GLANCE: Piper Jaffray Companies
The company: Piper Jaffray Companies is the nation's 11th-largest investment bank, with 89 retail sales offices in 17 states and capital market offices in 16 cities. It is being acquired by Minneapolis neighbor U.S. Bancorp in a deal that is expected to be final later this quarter. The IT organization's end users are 2,000 professionals, including accountants and sales executives.

The problem: Piper Jaffray needs to serve a diverse range of clients with varying financial interests.

The solution: Contact Manager, a client-account management application developed in-house that runs on NT.

The IT infrastructure: The company uses some 200 NT servers, six RS/6000 servers, and Compuware's EcoTOOLS for application management and for providing optimum operating capacity.

Alan Shop, director of product management for the EcoSystems Lab at Compuware, the software and services company based in Farmington Hills, Mich., echoes Husemuller: Because "NT has the ability to make your systems more distributed, it makes the management challenge greater," Shop says. "The environment gets more and more complicated."

The promise of uniformity

The Microsoft vision--or boast, depending on your point of view--is that in the long term, Windows NT Server will bring uniformity to the fragmented applications market by providing a ubiquitous platform that will scale from small business servers to large, mission-critical applications.

It's hard to tell how many people share that grandiose vision, but there's evidence that as NT 5.0 rolls out next year, a majority of important applications will be based on NT. And IT executives are clearly warming up to NT for a variety of non-mission-critical applications.

A survey of more than 800 IT managers in North America indicates that more environments will rely on NT (as the key operating system) than on UNIX by 1999. File/print servers and new uses, such as Web servers, will increasingly be based on NT technology, according to the survey by PlugIn Datamation and Cowen & Co., the New York City-based securities and investment-banking firm. DBMSs and datacenter applications will go to NT in smaller numbers (see chart, "NT tops UNIX by 1999").

In general, the primary use of NT won't be mission-critical applications, at least in the next several years. The survey data indicates that UNIX will remain strong in the datacenter and will continue to hold steady in the DBMS and application server markets.

IT managers use NT for a number of reasons, including the wide availability of applications that can be run on it: Most major applications vendors have written NT versions of their packages, and some 45% of the implementations of SAP's R/3 enterprise resource planning package these days are on NT, according to SAP.

But the chief reasons for NT implementation remain price and ease of use.

NT is ideal for small- to medium-sized enterprises where the cost of UNIX might be prohibitive and its power overwhelming.

At Arizona State University, Mike Altimus uses NT to run a computer lab for students. He says NT lets IT shut down the desktops, preventing users from making inappropriate changes to settings.
Arizona State University chose NT for its new Mesa, Ariz., campus because NT was inexpensive and easy to set up and administer. The 18-month-old ASU satellite campus, named the Williams campus, uses NT to run a computer lab for students and to support staff and faculty computing needs, says Mike Altimus, senior support systems analyst at the university. "It helps people like us to be able to efficiently manage a large number of workstations," Altimus says. Another advantage of NT in the lab, where each computer is used by many people, is that it lets IT shut down the desktops, preventing users from making inappropriate changes to settings.

The Williams campus is among the new and smaller organizations that are using NT to build an IT infrastructure from scratch. But even at the Williams campus, a 100% NT shop, NT and UNIX may be working side-by-side at some point in the future. "As we start to grow, if we add a server that's not NT, we'll end up running Sun Solaris," Altimus says, because Solaris is more scalable than NT.

"We believe that new technology is additive," says Compuware's Shop. "When UNIX came along, everyone said that the mainframe would die. NT is no exception."

NT "won't wipe away the mainframe and UNIX," agrees Alan Paller, an NT security specialist at the SANS Institute, the Bethesda, Md.-based cooperative research and education organization for system administrators, security professionals, and network administrators.

Mission-critical applications won't be the primary use of Microsoft's NT operating system over the next several years. Instead, Web servers and file/print servers will increasingly be based on NT technology. This is according to the 1998 Computer Systems User Survey by PlugIn Datamation and Cowen & Co., a technology-focused securities and investment banking firm in New York.

More than 800 IS managers in North America responded to the survey. For more information about Cowen & Co., including weekly highlights of the firm's acclaimed research, visit its Web site at

Random House, the media company, relies on Sun Solaris as an application server and uses NT as a file and print server. But Charlie Jones, director of technical services at Random House in West Minster, Md., isn't impressed with either OS. "I hope they're both replaced with something better and more enterprise-ready," he says.

The steady advance of NT

The PlugIn Datamation/ Cowen survey indicates that 11% of sites have Windows NT today, a figure that, based on the respondents' projections, is expected to rise to 24% in the next year or two and 33% over the longer term. The comparable numbers for UNIX are 15% today, 18% in the next one to two years, and 16% over the longer term. What's more, in the relational database market, sales for UNIX-based solutions showed limited growth, remaining at a little more than $2 billion in both 1996 and 1997, according to Dataquest, the market-research firm based in San Jose. Their NT counterparts grew phenomenally, increasing more than 90% from $456 million in 1996 to $872 million in 1997.

Paller of SANS Institute says a good gauge of market growth is the dollars spent on databases. "Three years from now, two-thirds of the dollars will be spent on UNIX, while one-third will be spent on NT," he says. "Still, that's a huge market, up from nothing."

In the last six months, IT solutions provider NCR, in Dayton, Ohio, has teamed with Microsoft to run Teradata, NCR's huge data warehouse solution, on NT. Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM are among the vendors that have introduced high-performance systems based on NT or some other OS. Companies like J.D. Edwards, with its OneWorld ERP software, are creating solutions that either straddle the UNIX and NT markets or come in both flavors.

PlugIn Datamation/Cowen findings indicate that NT leads in the Web server market: 50% of survey respondents are using NT as a Web server today, and that number will climb to 62% in the next one to two years. NT also has made a big impact in file and print: Some 43% of those surveyed are using NT as a file-and-print server today and 56% will use it as a file-and-print server in the next year or two. "The main easy market for NT [to nab] is the workgroup--file servers and application servers for the back office," says Paller of SANS Institute. He notes that Microsoft is also positioning NT to penetrate the market that includes SAP, Oracle, and PeopleSoft.

For more information...

Also in this issue of PlugIn Datamation:
"UNIX closes the price gap"
With prices now on an almost even par with Windows NT, UNIX is free to compete with NT on a features level-- manageability, scalability, and reliability.

Greg McNally, a partner at Highland Technology who serves as a consultant at BMW North America in Montvale, N.J., sees NT surpassing UNIX as a file-and-print server and as a Web server. He also sees NT dominating in on-line transaction processing (OLAP).

Clearly, Bill Gates has UNIX in his sights. "Microsoft is aiming for UNIX long-term," says Kate Quackenbush, director of marketing for Santa Clara-based New Moon Software. New Moon offers New Moon Booster back-end applications servers that run on Windows NT 4.0 and are designed to optimize Windows applications. "If he says that the future of Microsoft is 5.0, then he's saying, 'We're gunning for UNIX.'"

But for all the talk about NT replacing UNIX, the Microsoft OS poses a greater threat to IBM's OS/2 and Novell's NetWare. Mentis Corp., a Durham, N.C.-based financial-market research firm, notes that in 1997, OS/2 was the main server choice in 21% of $1 billion (in assets) banks, while NT captured 18%. But Mentis says that by 1999, OS/2 will hold only 7% of the servers in those banks and NT will occupy 55%. Banks are moving customer account data on Oracle and SQL Server databases to NT so that customers can access it.

In the face of NT competition, Novell is hustling to get its NetWare 5.0, code-named Moab, to market before NT 5.0 hits the streets--not a difficult goal, considering that NT 5.0 has suffered a nearly year-long delay, and a full-fledged NT 5.0 won't be ready until this time next year. Despite the threat of NT, Novell remains the largest purveyor of server software.

NT still has a long way to go

While NT has the advantages of low cost, ease of installation and administration, and uniformity--unlike UNIX, it comes in a single version from a single vendor--significant drawbacks remain to be resolved before IT managers make it the platform for mission-critical applications.

NT to top UNIX by 1999

While IT managers aren't abandoning UNIX, it appears that their ardor is cooling. Instead of selecting UNIX as their primary operating system, IT managers indicate that they will increasingly rely on NT from Microsoft, according to the new Datamation/Cowen 1998 Computer Systems User Survey by PlugIn Datamation and Cowen & Co., a technology-focused securities and investment banking firm in New York. The data suggests that NT will be the key operating system in more environments than UNIX by 1999.

"The familiar user interface and ease of administration make Windows NT an ideal platform for small and mid-sized companies, and Microsoft has the distribution channel and OEM relationships needed to serve this market," says Drew Brosseau, managing director and head of software research team at Cowen & Co.

NT is plagued with shortcomings that the enterprise simply can't tolerate--shortcomings in reliability, security, and, of course, scalability. "Not too long ago, people made jokes about the stability of UNIX," says BMW consultant McNally. "Now we wish that NT was as stable as UNIX."

Though SANS Institute's Paller says that NT's security "is no less effective than other enormously successful OSes," he notes that perceived security lapses "have turned some people away from NT." He adds: "NT gets a bad rap because the certification process ignores security."

NT's reputation worsened after the early March attack on NT servers connected to the Internet. Hackers launched a widespread denial-of-service attack that brought down many university and federal-government sites nationwide.

Additionally, Microsoft's past cavalier attitude toward upgrades and enhancements has some network managers worried. The company has had compatibility problems within its own product line: Each version of Windows brings on a new round of conflicting APIs while a new service pack for NT has traditionally meant a new round of headaches for systems administrators.

Microsoft promises that 5.0 will resolve enterprise issues, but many experts say it is likely to fall short of Microsoft's lofty goals. The company claims that the next version of NT will offer clear upgrade paths from past Windows solutions, including 3.0 and Windows 95, yet 5.0 is not nearly ready to make its debut. The delays in its release may mean that Microsoft will have to hold back some features, such as 64-bit Very Large Memory (VLM).

Lessons learned from implementing NT
1. NT isn't always as inexpensive as it appears. NT's distributed architecture creates systems-management headaches.
2. NT will mature, just as UNIX did.
3. Plan on doing a lot of development and rewriting codein order to make NT work in the enterprise
4. Test and retest your security measures(there's a step-by-step security guide to NT at the SANS Institute site,
While Microsoft struggles in the area of scalability, UNIX vendors continue to make great strides. The UNIX Ultra Enterprise 10,000, released last year by Sun, can accommodate a whopping 65 processors.

Microsoft's incomplete solution also has created a cottage industry for companies like Compuware and New Moon to fill in the gaps. Compuware's EcoTOOLS offer the enterprise a way to monitor and manage NT networks. And according to New Moon, the company is attempting to "bring some of the network management advantages of UNIX to NT," with a suite of products that help administrators identify resources on the network.

NT's shortcomings are keeping enterprise IT on its toes. "When you install NT across an enterprise or campus, there are a lot of tools you'll need and work that needs to be done," says McNally of BMW, which uses NT for file and print servers. "You have to do quite a bit of development for NT. You must write scripts to go out and get information on the user. It's all part of NT's evolution."

Many industry gurus believe NT will eventually mature. "NT will follow the same path as UNIX and become a production platform," says Compuware's Shop.

"An OS takes a long time to mature," says Kate Quackenbush of New Moon Software. "UNIX is 13 or 14 years old. NT will grow up into UNIX." //

Teri Robinson is a New York-based freelance journalist specializing in business and technology.

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