In case you hadn’t noticed, Windows NT celebrated its third anniversary in August. The occasion was remarkable only for the uncharacteristic lack of glitz and fanfare which accompanied the day, especially since the operating system has gone from strength to strength since its inception. In that short space of time, Windows NT has been a […]
In case you hadn’t noticed, Windows NT celebrated its third anniversary in August. The occasion was remarkable only for the uncharacteristic lack of glitz and fanfare which accompanied the day, especially since the operating system has gone from strength to strength since its inception. In that short space of time, Windows NT has been a runaway success at the low-end of the server market, eating away at the predominance of Novell’s NetWare, while at the high-end putting enterprise-level server operating systems dominated by the Unix camp under a state of alert. Of course, the writing was on the wall for those willing to swallow the marketing souffle served by Microsoft’s Bill Gates at the Windows NT launch. Gates was on hand to deliver a typically large dollop of marketing rap that conjured up a halcyon world of low-cost servers, based on his company’s top to bottom Windows NT operating system. An up to date indicator of the fortunes of NT since its birth in the server market was recently supplied by market research firm Dataquest. It issued a report in August estimating that NT Server sales this year will for the first time pass all versions of Unix combined, and nearly catch up to NetWare. Now that Version 4.0 has gone gold, it predicts NT Server sales will hit 550,000 – up from 318,000 in 1995. In contrast, Dataquest reckons that Unix sales will decline to around 373,000 copies this year from 382,000 last year – while NetWare grows to 606,000 from 509,000.
By Ray Hegarty
For other operating systems, Dataquest predicts that Apple’s Macintosh will grow to 5.4 million copies up from 4.8 million; OS/2 will grow slightly to 1.9 million up from 1.75 million, and DOS sales without Windows will tumble to 2 million from 4.2 million. Sales of various niche and proprietary operating systems will slide to 166,000 – from 227,000 copies. But perhaps the final fait accompli in Microsoft’s projected NT lebensraum has been Hewlett-Packard Co’s sudden conversion to the NT stable. Having spent the last three years amongst the most vociferous of anti-NT voices, the last few months have been marked by a noticeable cooling of its virulent Unix-only preaching. Beginning with an announcement in June that it was offering workshops to help information system developers to handle Unix and NT integration issues, Hewlett-Packard has began to port key technology to NT. One of the main reasons for the reversal in policy was the result of an internal survey in which over half of its existing HP-UX customers expected to need Unix/NT integration before the end of 1997. Remember, HP, along with IBM Corp and Digital Equipment Corp, is one of the biggest suppliers of Unix servers, generating $3bn of Unix business in 1995, up 60% from the previous year. HP and its fellow Unix travelers are beginning to realize that NT is not going away and is increasingly relevant in the modern heterogeneous environment. So does NT cut it as a server? The short answer is that NT has a distinct advantage amongst its competitors at the workgroup level, but when it comes to the mission critical database server there is still a lot to be desired. NT’s key advantages over Unix at the workgroup level include ease of use and configuration; lower overall cost; and easy integration with Windows desktops. It looks like NT vendors are set to differentiate on services and chip speed rather than operating system services. Users don’t have to worry about mixing several NT vendors’ flavors of operating system. While it’s generally perceived that NT has a lot to offer at the low-end server operating system level, plaudits are much more hard to come by at the enterprise level. Number one bugbear is the oft voiced non-scalability issue which has come to linger like a bad smell around all NT versus Unix discussions. It’s clear that NT Server has difficulty matching the scalability of Unix servers. With several Unix vendors offering 32-way and 64-way machines, even with the new NT 4.0 there’s only support for a maximum of eight processors, far smaller than the common 15
-to-30 processor Unix systems several vendors sell. But clustering is the option that NT vendors are currently pinning most of their scalability hopes on, although cluster systems are primarily for increased availability rather than performance gains. There’s a whole raft of NT-types including DEC, AT&T Co, Compaq Computer Corp and Tandem Computer Inc currently working on various NT clustering projects. Oft leveled criticisms of NT servers include a lack of application software and tools. Not so, says Microsoft pointing to some 2,500 NT Server applications already available. And it says that it is expecting that figure to double over the next year.
A Microsoft spokesman concedes that NT might not be able to boast quite the number of system management and security tools that its Unix competitor has, but adds that nearly all the major systems management and security vendors have ported, are in the process of porting, or plan to port their tools over. NT also still falls short of providing the kind of third-party business applications, such as mission critical, transaction processing applications that are available in their thousands for Unix. Microsoft admits that NT needs to do more in this space if it is to be taken seriously, not least providing impressive users to back up its claims for mission critical enterprise computing. On the technology front the company cites the recent formation of a 64- bit NT operating system, to be delivered by a DEC, Intel, Microsoft axis – some time in 1998 – and the Wolfpack clustering API’s as proof of its intent to encroach on the enterprise computing space. But it’s not all rosy in the NT garden. With NT Server, Microsoft is still in the position of playing catch-up with Unix. Microsoft has proved it isn’t immune to bad business decisions – failing to spot the Internet constellation until it was almost too late, and is currently only half-hearted in its support of Java. The Internet might yet prove to be the undoing of NT Server. Close to 24 months ago the Internet wasn’t really in anybody’s field of vision, but since then it has changed every IT company’s priorities. Now, distributed computing has been replaced by centralized deployment. Windows NT has lacked intimacy with the Internet right from the outset. Internet technologies, for the most part, were designed for and created on Unix. NT is basically a workstation environment, and to transform it to compete with Unix and mainframes may be asking just a little too much.