Is Windows NT a scalable operating system that can handle all your enterprise applications? Microsoft will tell you it is, but I don't think they're quite there yet. Let's do a quick reality check.
To start with, NT has registered enormous success in the past two years.
ComputerWorld readers were surveyed on their buying intentions late last year, and 64 per cent said they planned to buy Windows NT in 1997. An increasing number of Australian organisations are turning to NT, either for specific applications or to power their branch operations.
Commonwealth Bank is a prime example of the latter use, rolling out a massive NT based branch network. Other finance industry players, such as Tasmania's Trust Bank and Victoria's Enterprise Credit Union, have also selected NT to tie their branch networks together. In the US, the story is similar. General Motors is installing NT Server at 9400 dealer sites in North America. These examples illustrate how well suited NT is for replicated workgroup applications that must be rolled out near and far.
Why else do CIOs and IT managers like NT? The major reason is price - the cost per seat of an NT solution is much lower than most alternatives. Also, they don't feel an NT choice is career-threatening: there is a growing amount of support for NT in terms of trained personnel and support by vendors in terms of third party products.
Even IBM has been co-opted. Big Blue reportedly hopes to grab up to a fifth of the services and solutions market for NT within two years. To that end it offers NT versions of its mainline products. SGIO Insurance, for example, was able to choose a slew of IBM software - including DB2, CICS, Lotus Notes - all running on NT. Next year, IBM will even offer its 360,000 AS/400 users native support for NT via a dedicated card inside the AS/400.
Support for NT is strong across the computer industry. A recent survey of Australia's distribution channel by Inform showed that, for the first time, there are more channel partners for NT than for Novell NetWare. Independent software vendors have likewise welcomed NT. For instance, Geac Australia has developed an NT-based manufacturing software package aimed at departmental and divisional operations. It's using the price/performance of NT to duck under the marketing might of an SAP, which dominates the bigger sites but is far more expensive. SAP is awake to this and is trying to ally with NT itself. Already, around 28 per cent of all R/3 applications are running on NT.
But can NT really solve all your processing challenges? Microsoft organised an impressive demonstration of the power of Windows NT technology at its "Scalability Day" marketing event in New York last month. Together with companies like Digital, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, Amdahl, Data General, NCR, and Seagate Software, it showed high transaction volume, reliable applications, and announced new versions of its server software.
Yet after all the hype had blown away, the fact remained that Unix still scales to more processors and still offers better clustering, availability and manageability than NT. The ability of NT to run reliably on clustered, or multiple, machines, each having eight or more processors, is at least several years away, analysts agreed. High-availability systems that compete with current fault tolerant systems are even further out. A Forrester Research survey of IT managers at large global companies shows that they agree: three in four said that they see themselves buying Unix solutions well into the future.
My feeling is that CIOs can freely use NT's advantages in departmental and branch solutions, but should hesitate to run large-scale, mission-critical applications on it. Ask me in two years' time, and if Microsoft makes good on its numerous promises then I may have a different position.
In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the price/performance, enjoy thechoice, and enjoy the increased competition for your dollar.
*Steve Ireland is the associate publisher of ComputerWorld Australia newspaper
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