Making the Case for NT

Because many high-end Windows NT users continue to express concern that Windows NT is weak in the areas of reliability and scalability, a number of vendors have undertaken initiatives to make a case for NT in mission-critical use.

UniKix Technologies (Phoenix, www.unikix.com), manufacturer of UniKix software, a transaction processing client/server system that supports the CICS-API on Unix systems, recently completed a month-long transaction processing endurance test running CICS business transactions on Windows NT. The goal of the test, says UniKix president Dave Mathews, was to examine Windows NT’s reliability in a high-volume transaction processing and batch workload environment.

"Customers normally run a mixture of transactional processing and batch workloads on our systems, and they will typically have hundreds of end users using the system, sometimes thousands," Mathews explains. "So you’ve got a lot of concurrent processes going on, and what we were trying to do with the endurance test is to see how reliable NT is in order to evaluate it for use by our customers."

By Mathews' account, UniKix’s Windows NT endurance test was a success, demonstrating that NT is suitably robust for midrange transaction processing applications. The demonstration was conducted using UniKix’ Enterprise UniKix for Windows NT Beta Release 1.0 running on a single-processor Pentium Pro 200-MHz server and Windows NT 4.0. During the 35-day test, Windows NT failed only once -- on day 5 because of a memory leak that UniKix subsequently corrected. For the next 30 days, the UniKix transaction processing middleware ran flawlessly on Windows NT, processing more than 10 million transactions in the interim.

According to Mathews, UniKix was very pleased with the results of the test. "To be honest, it’s better than we expected," he acknowledges. "There are lots of things that [the engineers who were involved in the test] liked about NT, and the kind of feedback that I got overall was that NT has more elements of what you’d like to see in a modern OS than Unix does."

Microsoft has trumpeted the emergence of Windows NT in several high-profile implementations, including a much-ballyhooed deployment at the Chicago Stock Exchange, one of the United States’ largest regional stock exchanges. Officials at the exchange junked a planned HP 9000 deployment and chose instead to implement a Windows NT-based solution that will be fully operational by 2000.

Among analysts, Dan Kusnetzky, director of operating environments and serverware research with International Data Corp. (IDC, Framingham, Mass.), takes a pragmatic approach to both the UniKix demonstration and Microsoft Corp.’s efforts to sell Windows NT in mission-critical environments. "While I'm glad to see that UniKix has been able to show such a good demonstration, there is still a very long way to go for Windows NT, taken as a whole, to handle enterprise-class applications for any but small organizations," Kusnetzky says.

Although the industry promotes successes heavily, there are failures that receive widespread press, too. For example, a recent published report described an embarrassing failure of a U.S. Navy prototype ship. The U.S. Navy’s new "Smart Ships" program is an initiative that seeks to facilitate cost savings by creating a semi-automated environment and replacing existing naval personnel with Windows NT computers. The U.S.S. Yorktown, a vessel in the Smart Ships program, died in the water off of the coast of Cape Charles, Va. The ship had to be towed back to port. The Navy has officially acknowledged that the Yorktown faced "an engineering local-area network casualty" that knocked out the ship’s Windows NT computers. Several sources have indicated that the Yorktown's failure was linked to the Windows NT operating system.

According to IDC’s Kusnetzky, such heavily publicized failures on the part of Windows NT only serve to add fuel to the fire of those who claim that NT just doesn’t have the stuff for mission criticality. "My concern is that true ‘enterprise-class’ applications must run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Only scheduled downtime is acceptable," Kusnetzky contends. "Windows NT Server 4.0 is not really ready to take up that type of load."