News to Watch in ’99

One year ago the column I wrote for ENT’s editorial page was titled "NT 5 Delivery Misses the Mark." Most of the issues I touched on in that column -- things like total cost of ownership (TCO), zero administration for Windows (ZAW) and quality control of service pack releases -- remain relevant.

The landscape, however, has changed in the past 12 months. Even though it seems like Microsoft is mired in a development project that won’t ever come to a clean conclusion, the rest of the industry has continued to forge ahead.

Considering that this is our final issue of 1998, lets take a look at what’s going to be important during 1999:

Windows 2000 -- Regardless of when it becomes available, Windows 2000 will be the big story next year. This product will consume most of Microsoft’s attention until it is finally out the door. But don’t expect widespread acceptance by the corporate market until after the first Service Pack is released. Even then, the likelihood of widespread deployment for anything so new, so close to the Year 2000 date change, seems slim at best.

Year 2000 -- The Year 2000 date change will continue to dog IT managers through the year, even if their own shop is in order. If your systems are tested and upgraded, you still have to worry about trading partners, suppliers and customers.

Scalability -- With four-way Xeon systems outperforming the fastest eight-way systems previously available and eight-way Xeon systems on the way, Windows NT gets an automatic bump up the scalability chart. But will people use these higher-power systems for more mission-critical tasks, or will ongoing concern about NT stability continue to limit the upward migration of Windows NT? Let’s hope Windows 2000 Datacenter Server can overcome this basic challenge.

Total Cost of Ownership -- TCO was, is, and will continue to be a huge issue for NT shops. Windows 2000 will make it easier to manage desktop systems and save on administrative costs, but full benefit only comes with a complete desktop-to-server migration to Windows 2000. Mixed NT 4.0-Windows 2000 environments will bring mixed benefits, reducing TCO. Unfortunately, many companies will be facing an expensive software and hardware upgrade to migrate all of their systems to Windows 2000. The more likely scenario for most organizations is that Windows 2000 will replace NT 4.0 over a several-year period. In the interim, third-party tools that help manage administrative costs for NT 4.0 systems and Windows 95/98 desktops will continue to hold a key role.

SQL Server 7 -- Microsoft is trying to level the playing field with Oracle and IBM for large database deployment on NT. Now that SQL Server 7 is formally launched and the hoopla is over, it’s time for Microsoft to challenge its well-positioned competition for large database accounts. Is SQL Server up to the task?

Linux -- Emerging from relative obscurity, Linux has become a thorn in Microsoft’s side; not because Linux is taking marketshare away from Microsoft. No, it’s far worse than that. Linux is taking mindshare away from Microsoft, and that’s something that rarely happens. If it weren’t for the ongoing Department of Justice hearings, you could be sure that Microsoft would be waging an all-out war to discredit and destroy Linux. Over the long haul, Linux stands a good chance of becoming yet another player in the corporate mix. Its penetration will come at the expense of traditional Unix servers as well as Windows NT servers.

Electronic Business -- If it seems like we have been talking about electronic business for a long time, it’s probably because we have. Several simple, but hard-to-solve, problems remain. Unpredictable client-side bandwidth, low comfort levels with Internet security, and failure of the emergence of a ubiquitous electronic payment system, all serve as impediments to growth. Nevertheless, this market sector is poised for growth simply because of the phenomenal potential e-business has.

Application Servers -- Although viewed as one of several key components making it easier to build e-business applications, application servers are nothing more than a collection of existing technologies sold under a new name. While it already has all the pieces, Microsoft has not yet bothered to create an application server "package." Meanwhile, competitors such as Oracle and IBM are falling all over themselves positioning their application servers in the market.

SANs -- Storage area networks are real, thanks in part to maturing Fibre Channel technology. Fibre Channel has been around for a good six years, but is just now is finding a niche that it can call home. Native SAN support will exist in Windows 2000.

Windows NT Telephony -- One of the more interesting trends to take place during 1998 was the integration of telephony and computers through the creation of "un-PBX" systems that leverage Windows NT as the base platform on which to build a telephone system. There are pros and cons associated with this approach. One drawback is that some NT telephony solutions require an ATM backbone for reasonable quality of service levels. Another problem: Should the NT platform blue screen, some configurations can leave users with no telephone service. If anything will hold this technology back, it’s Windows NT itself.