Battle for Uptime Bragging Rights Builds on NT

A curious battle for bragging rights is being waged in the Windows NT services market: uptime. Two years ago, the target for uptime was 99.5 percent. Now, the popular target in the industry has risen to 99.9 percent, which means combined unscheduled downtime in a given year cannot add up to more than seven hours.

Compaq Computer Corp. jumped into the NT availability services arena this week when it announced high availability services for its ProLiant family of Windows NT systems. Compaq's offering is unique in that it offers customers a choice of the level of availability they want.

The first level is what Compaq calls the commercial version of the guarantee, which covers the operating system and hardware for eligible two-node clustered Compaq ProLiant servers running the Windows NT Server operating system. At this level of service, Compaq guarantees an uptime of 99.5 percent. For customers whose ProLiant Windows NT systems are deployed for business-critical use, Compaq offers a higher-grade, 99.9 percent uptime guarantee for selected clusters and configurations. Both service levels are expected to roll out worldwide next month.

Data General Corp. (Westboro, Mass.,, rolled out its 99.9 percent program in October, tagged OMNiiCARE, which guarantees this prime percentage of uptime for servers running Windows NT on Data General's departmental and enterprise AviiON servers. That includes the dual- and quad-processor AV 3650 and AV 3700 servers and the high-end, eight-processor AV 8600 server.

Hewlett-Packard Co. also announced a 99.9 percent availability program for Windows NT in September, but has yet to roll it out. The guarantee will be available for companies using the HP Mission Control Server Suite for Windows NT, which includes a clustered configuration of the HP NetServer LXr 8000 system, HP Critical Systems Support for Windows NT, HP TopTools and HP OpenView/Manage X, and Windows NT Server Enterprise Edition. The company says this service suite will be available in early 1999.

Compaq and HP do not charge a specific rate for the guarantee. Customers qualify for the guarantee if they meet purchase requirements. Both companies' plans roll out next year, and they haven't announced what concessions would be made if the guarantees were not met. After meeting purchase requirements, Data General charges a special premium, but will rebate it if services don’t meet the benchmark.

The 99.9 percent uptime promise is not new to the Unix space, where HP and Sun Microsystems Inc. are in a tight race to provide customers with more than the 99.9 percent guarantee. HP is working on its "Five Nines" vision to provide 99.999 percent uptime for its Unix environment by the year 2000. Sun has similar plans.

David Green, HP market development manager for Enterprise NetServers, says that many HP customers who have been using HP-UX now want to move to NT, but want the same type of reliability. "We've been able to take what we've learned from the Unix side and move that to our NT effort," Green says.

Tom Iannotti, vice president of worldwide marketing and sales for Compaq, says there's too big a deal being made of the percentage game. The real issue is customer faith. "Customers don't look forward to collecting on this guarantee. They'd rather have nothing happen," Iannotti says. "The guarantee really becomes a vehicle for customers to have confidence in their service providers."

Doug Chandler, an analyst for International Data Corp. (IDC, Framingham, Mass.), says that customers running NT today, especially those who had to upsize, typically don't have the methodologies that would keep NT server up and running. That's specifically why all three companies require a certain amount of training for the administrators who will be operating the in-house systems.

Corporate executives and analysts all agree that the catalyst for the recent uptime guarantees has been timing. "The trend is that NT has found its way into mission-critical environments," says Eric Rocco, an analyst with Dataquest (San Jose, Calif.). "The timing for NT services can't be better. I think customers are eating this stuff up."

IDC's Chandler points out, however, that the options companies provide today are still "narrow in scope" and that many customers may be reluctant to implement the guarantees. In addition to customers having to install the full version of NT, with all of the Service Packs, they'll also have to follow very strict purchasing and implementation guidelines set forth by the service providers.