[ISN] NT Warriors (NT shortcomings)

From: mea culpa (jerichoat_private)
Date: Sun Nov 08 1998 - 03:05:23 PST

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    Forwarded From: "Betty G.O'Hearn" <bettyat_private>
    NT Warriors
    11/7/98 9:04 AM  
    Nov. 06, 1998 (InternetWeek - CMP via COMTEX) -- Given its relatively
    short life, the growth of Windows NT-last month renamed Windows 2000-for
    Web applications is already impressive.
       By some estimates, more than half of all companies already base their
    Web server strategies on NT, and version 4.0 is rapidly increasing its
    share of enterprise applications overall. Gartner Group expects the
    platform will increase its portfolio of standard enterprise business apps
    more than 60 percent by 2001.
       Nevertheless, IT managers choosing NT today still face significant
    trade-offs in terms of performance and stability compared to alternatives
    such as Unix and Novell's NetWare. Consider the slew of third-party
    companies offering "enhancements" to NT's directory, clustering, systems
    management and security features. 
       Microsoft may point to these value-added vendors as proof of NT's
    popularity, but it's more likely these vendors have come to patch holes
    and buttress a platform that's still evolving its core functionality.
       To be sure, NT 5.0, repackaged as a three-tier server line under the
    Windows 2000 banner, will address many of the top concerns expressed by
    network managers.
       But the Windows 2000 server line is not expected to ship until mid-1999
    at the earliest. For the time being, IT managers who opt for NT are
    dancing between the platform's price/performance advantages over Unix and
    NT's weaknesses. Those short-comings start with scalability.  Today, a
    single NT server supports only about 25 percent of the users that a
    comparable Unix box can handle, and there are many fewer NT engineers out
    there to hire.
       As the two case studies presented here indicate, experiences with NT
    4.0 can vary. At Brigham Young University, early hope that NT would offer
    a less expensive way to open the school's back-end apps to the Web is
    under review after a disappointing launch last month.  Conversely, site
    creation and hosting company Judd's Online sees its front-to-back
    commitment to NT-and Microsoft applications-yielding positive results. 
       The decisions are tough, but these users' experiences should help you
    weigh your own options.
    --Case Study-- 
    At Brigham Young, NT Barely Makes Grade
       If Windows NT were a student at Brigham Young University, it might be
    averaging a "D" grade right now.
       Brigham Young last month tried and failed to move to an all-NT 4.0
    server front end for its Web apps, which are accessed by about 50,000
    students and 4,200 full-time faculty at the Provo, Utah, campus.
       The tests especially disappointed Brad Stone, director of development
    for BYU's information technology service. Stone had hoped running Windows
    NT on Intel servers would save BYU big bucks.
       "It came down to the cost question," Stone says. "We could put in
    dual-processor Pentiums running NT for $7,000 versus tens of thousands of
    dollars for a Unix box."
    Cost Cutting
       The NT tests were part of the university's ongoing policy of using
    technology to cut costs. About two months ago, BYU retired the IBM
    mainframe that ran its financial, registration and inventory systems and
    replaced it with a farm of Hewlett-Packard servers. Indeed, a future plan
    is to leverage NT for more of this back-end processing, using another set
    of NT servers running Web applications as the common front end. 
       BYU's users access the campuswide intranet using an application called
    getAccess from software maker enCommerce Inc. Up until an October test,
    the logon app, along with Netscape's Web servers, ran on a mix of NT and
    Unix boxes.
       According to Stone, the mixed server configuration worked flawlessly
    for the past year on volumes of 300,000 to 350,000 logons daily. But it
    was not up to the task when only Windows NT servers were tested. 
       The Windows NT boxes could not handle the load alone, Stone explains. 
    "Our latest information is that the problem involves the number of threads
    Windows NT can handle." He believes the Unix machines, which can spawn a
    large number of simultaneous processes, would not have hit the same wall. 
       Stone also had problems running e-mail servers over NT. "When we
    shifted these servers to NT, running full max on the latest hardware, we
    found we could handle only about half the traffic of the HP servers," 
    Stone reports, noting that the situation was destined to get worse as
    e-mail traffic from BYU's 25,000 mail accounts continued to increase. 
       "My faith in NT was shaken, diminished," says Stone, who originally
    advocated the use of Windows NT to upper management. Right now, the IT
    unit is revisiting the question of whether NT is a suitable Web server
    front end. Stone, for instance, is pressing hard to put e-mail services
    back on Unix boxes.
       Although every installation is unique-and BYU is still looking for the
    culprit responsible for its underwhelming experience with NT-a number of
    observers say NT is not up to speed for the enterprise when compared to
    Unix. "NT is two or three years behind Unix," says Chris LeTocq, an
    analyst with Dataquest.
    Seeking Alternatives 
       Still, Stone has not entirely given up on Windows NT and is considering
    two alternatives. First, a Web load-balancing product called Cadence from
    Valence Research Inc. can be used. Microsoft acquired Valence earlier this
    year and intends to bundle the Cadence software into NT 5.0, which last
    month was renamed and repositioned under the Windows 2000 banner. Cadence,
    which will be included in Windows 2000 Server, would help span browser
    requests across a farm of NT servers. 
       But Stone isn't exactly holding his breath. "We really can't work with
    beta code," he says, referring to NT 5.0's current status.
       Windows NT 5.0 Beta 2.0 is available now, and a Beta 3.0 of one of the
    Windows 2000 server products is expected in the first quarter of next
    year. Microsoft has not said when Windows 2000 will ship, arguing that the
    company needs feedback from users about the Beta 3.0 build.
    A Mixed Environment 
       Stone's other possibility is to test the Windows NT configuration with
    Microsoft's bundled HTTP server for NT, the Internet Information Server. 
       But this second solution-a vertical stack of Microsoft infrastructure
    and server applications-doesn't sit well with Stone, who says Brigham
    Young, like most other academic institutions, is a hotbed of heterogeneous
    computing activity.
       "We wouldn't have a chance mandating the use of a single vendor's
    products," Stone says. 
       Meanwhile, Brigham Young's departments soon will be retesting the
    Windows NT configurations. And maybe this time NT-or rather Windows 2000
    Server-will receive a passing grade. 
    Brigham Young University 
    - Windows NT Platform: version 4.0 
    - Number of Windows NT Servers: 18 
    - Web Servers: 16 Netscape; 2 NetWare; 1 Novonix, the  Netscape-on-NetWare
    - Application Servers: 12 NetWare centrally, 90 campuswide 
    - Development Tools for NT: Code Warrior, Perl and Java 
    - Additional Software: Remotely Possible, a screen-sharing app from 
      Computer Associates International Inc.; Disk Keeper, a disk defrag and 
      maintenance tool for NT from Executive Software International Inc. 
    --Case Study-- 
    Windows Reflects Well On Judd's Online Business 
       At site creation and hosting company Judd's Online, the commitment to
    Windows NT runs wide and deep-and it's getting the job done.
       By relying on NT and a full complement of Microsoft BackOffice apps and
    tools, Judd's has reduced complexity in its own shop and for its business
    clients, says Richard Warren, senior vice president of strategy, sales and
       A case in point is Judd's default Web server. The company started with
    early versions of Netscape's commerce and communications servers running
    on NT for its intranet, but ran into some performance issues.
       "It was our impression that Netscape's software was more an NT hack of
    a Unix application," Warren says. "It didn't operate as a genuine Windows
    service and was neither fish nor fowl in the NT environment."
       So, Warren moved to NT's Internet Information Server (IIS), which these
    days is connected to Microsoft BackOffice apps, notably Microsoft's SQL
    Server database. The company now has more than 20 NT servers, running on
    Compaq and Digital Equipment Alpha machines.
       "The real multiplier is [when you have] top-to-bottom integration," 
    Warren says. "I can program in one paradigm and have it work all the way
    from the HTTP server to the most complex services in [Microsoft's] Site
       Warren is such a true believer that he recommends staying away from the
    third-party products available today that beef up NT 4.0's directory,
    security and systems management. To him, the ancillary products introduce
    added complexity, particularly when Microsoft ships a patch or extension
    to the core operating system.
       Vertical integration via BackOffice simplifies deployment for Judd's
    Online's commercial accounts, which include the Martha Stewart online
    store and the 60,000-page site for the American Diabetes Association.
       Warren also disagrees with criticism that too much dependence on
    Microsoft narrows choices, such as forcing users to run Microsoft's
    Internet Explorer browser to best experience the Active Server Pages
    generated by IIS. 
    The Right Choice 
       "If you design applications carefully and understand how to make the
    server software responsible to the user agent, there's no reason you can't
    live with and, frankly, reinforce the browser choice," Warren says. 
       Warren admits his company's own intranet and work for clients is "very
    ActiveX-focused." But even here, the problem of providing cross-browser
    support is not insurmountable, and doesn't outweigh the benefits of using
    NT, he says.
       And he's not worried about about Windows NT's lack of scalability,
    often cited as one area where the operating system lags alternatives found
    in the IBM or Unix worlds.
       The scalability arguments raised by large Unix or IBM mainframe
    proponents miss the advantages of "the smaller, distributed, replicated
    processing that NT is so good at," he argues. Besides, multiple servers
    clustered to deliver scalability offer security because there's no single
    point of failure. For instance, Judd's Online uses Windows NT servers to
    manage a large tape storage subsystem, a 5.4 terabyte library for
    press-plate images. 
    Scaling Ahead 
       Warren is among the many network managers watching the rapid scaling of
    Intel and Alpha servers, which are climbing the performance curve with
    four-way, eight-way and 16-way configurations.
       For instance, he reports that the Martha Stewart online store, hosted
    by Judd business partner Digex Inc., originally began with six Windows NT
    servers but dropped one when it was found that five four-processor
    machines were more than adequately handling the load.
       NT's growth at Judd's, as elsewhere, has as much to do with economics
    as performance issues. "Our experience is that NT is 2-to-1 or even 3-to-1
    cheaper," he says, comparing the unit price of Intel servers to Unix
    boxes. Still, Warren says Microsoft's delay of Windows 5.0-now Windows
    2000 Server-has affected some products, if not his planning.
       "Site Server 3.0 was kind of retrofitted to [the Lightweight Directory
    Access Protocol] because Active Directory wasn't quite available," he
    says, adding that Site Server will probably run better once Windows 2000
    and the Active Directory infrastructure are ready.
       Warren also expects to see more Windows 2000 items showing up as NT 4.0
    add-ons, especially as the ship date for the final version of Windows 2000
    moves further into the future.
    "They've been putting stuff from Windows 2000 into 4.0," Warren says. 
       And he thinks this may indicate a welcome consolidation at the kernel
    level between the old Windows and Windows 2000.
    Judd's Online 
    - Windows NT Platform: mostly 4.0, some 3.51 for specialized press 
    - Number of Windows NT Servers: more than 20 
       - Web Servers: Compaq for general-purpose services; DEC AlphaServers 
         for SQL Server and digital prepress 
    - Application Servers: NT Servers 
       - Development Tools for NT: Visual Basic; Visual InterDev;  InfoModeler
         for Object Role Modeling 
       - Additional Software: specialized drivers to handle the 5.4-terabyte 
         storage system for press-plate images 
    By: Ellis Booker 
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