The Changing Network Landscape

The current IT landscape is ripe for change. With Windows 2000 availability and the Linux flavor of Unix gaining back-office floor space, one thing is certain: New operating systems are challenging the old guard within corporate networks.

Market research firm IDC defines three strata of enterprise application classes: mission critical, business critical, and noncritical. Mission critical applications are those that are necessary for the enterprise to function; without which a company would quickly become insolvent. Business-critical applications are those that are important to an enterprise, such as e-mail, but the occasional unavailability of which can be tolerated. Noncritical applications are those, such as file-and-print, that aren't company breakers if they fail.

Windows NT, the forerunner of Windows 2000, has successfully carved out a niche within corporate networks, residing next to legacy mainframes and Unix boxes in back offices. But despite a handful of exceptions, Windows NT traditionally has been used in lower-level enterprise implementations as a platform for tasks such as file-and-print services. With the latest edition of the Windows operating system, that could soon change.

Meanwhile, Linux’s original grassroots momentum is quickly becoming a mainstream force, making other Unix vendors and Microsoft Corp. (www.microsoft.com) keep a watchful eye on its open source movement.

Windows 2000

Although Windows NT increasingly has been deployed in business-critical implementations as a platform for mail and messaging, IDC data indicates Windows NT 4.0 is used most extensively in non-critical implementations.

Windows 2000 is expected to change that. The new operating system has capabilities designed to meet the needs of enterprise use beyond file and print. Technologies such as hierarchical storage management, support for more memory and processors, and heftier clustering -- just to name a few -- will help Windows 2000 challenge entrenched enterprise operating systems.

One of the most significant ways Microsoft is pushing Windows 2000 higher into the enterprise is interoperability.

Rob Enderle, senior analyst with Giga Information Group Inc. (www.gigaweb.com), says Microsoft is concentrating on interoperability because Unix systems are the main-stay of back-room, mission-critical environments that the software giant is targeting with Windows 2000.

Peter Houston, Windows 2000 group product manager, says that if Microsoft didn’t work to increase interoperability, administrators accustomed to the management tools and services native to Unix platforms wouldn’t be receptive to learning the administrative ropes of Windows 2000 systems.

"I believe that a lot more customers will take a look at Windows 2000 if we make it easier for them to deploy it with their existing systems," Houston says. "If you ask customers to make big jumps in order to embrace a new technology, they’re less likely to do it, and certainly interoperability lets them do this. If people can use and evaluate Windows 2000 in a NetWare or Unix environment, then, ultimately, they will pick Windows 2000."

The software giant is slated to ship its Windows 2000 Services for Unix, a set of tools and utilities that includes Network File System (NFS) client, NFS server, and NFS gateway software components. Windows 2000 Services for Unix facilitates the native integration of several popular Unix shell environments, including the ubiquitous Korn shell, on Windows 2000 systems.

The kicker in Microsoft’s W2K-to-Unix interoperability efforts is the release of version 2.2 of its Interix platform -- a Unix operating system that can run in conjunction with Windows 2000. Interix provides support for almost 2,000 Unix APIs and more than 300 Unix utilities.

Houston says because of Microsoft’s interoperability initiatives, Unix and Linux administrators should be able to administer their Unix systems from Windows 2000.

"Administrators who understands how to use the shell and the commands on Unix can go to Windows 2000 and administer the system using these same commands," he explains.

As a result of the new capabilities and more extensive interoperability, Dan Kusnetzky, xxxx of xxxx at IDC, projects that Microsoft's highest-end operating system will be deployed in mission-critical implementations, although slowly, primarily as a platform for e-commerce.

"As Microsoft proves the capabilities of Windows 2000, there's every indication that it will continue to move into mission-critical implementations," he says.

Unix

Kusnetzky says Unix has a home within the network, which will be tough to enter. "Unix has already got a very firm hold on being the system that surrounds the mainframe. It's the system that does the distributed computing tasks for business units and some large departments and divisions, and in some cases does the main critical business of the whole company," he says.

Sun Microsystems Inc. (www.sun.com) is one of the few purveyors of Unix-based systems that refuses to commit to an NT strategy of some stripe. In 1997, Unix powerhouses such as Hewlett-Packard Co. (www.hp.com) and Silicon Graphics Inc. (www.sgi.com) teamed with Microsoft to form a variety of technology-sharing software development and joint-marketing partnerships. Sun chose to focus on the Unix front.

Many of the Unix stalwarts, such as HP and IBM Corp. (www.ibm.com), have seen their stakes in the Unix high-end and midrange server markets erode. Sun, however, is boasting impressive growth in both spaces, enjoying 19.2 percent overall growth in shipments of its Solaris operating system in 1999, according to IDC.

"Sun is dominating in the Unix market. And through its marketing and overall strategy has succeeded in positioning HP and IBM as either diluting Unix or not being fully committed to Unix because they both also have a Windows NT/2000 strategy," Enderle says.

Sun’s Solaris 8 ships with new features that analysts believe have the potential to bolster its credentials as both a top-flight Internet services platform and a data-center performer that offers mainframe-class services. Absent from Solaris 8, however, are substantive interoperability enhancements on the order of Microsoft’s Windows 2000 Services for Unix.

Tom Goguen, group manager of Solaris Software at Sun, says his company is committed to pursuing open standards for interoperability between Solaris and other platforms, including Windows. He points to Sun’s recent port of the Web-Based Enterprise Management (WBEM) framework to Solaris, indicating that while WBEM began as a Microsoft- and Intel-driven initiative, it was developed under the auspices of an industry standards body.

"Anything that is an open standard, we’re very interested in adopting it," Goguen concludes. "But just because you’re doing Windows-on-Intel, that doesn’t mean that you end up with any interoperability advantages by default."

Sun’s posturing creates opportunities for vendors with mixed Unix and Windows NT strategies, such as HP and IBM, who will attempt to out-market Sun by providing blended solutions.

"HP has a strategy, as does IBM, to compete against Sun, which staked a claim as the only Unix-only provider," Enderle says. "HP and IBM have to offer something that Sun can’t offer, and that is a blended solution. So whether it’s Linux or the Microsoft Windows products, both can give you the benefits of Unix at the high-end until these products perform at the high-end, so their value proposition is a thorough blend."

IDC predicts Unix as a whole, will continue its assault upon the back-room sanctum of most enterprise environments: the mainframe. As Windows NT and Linux are stealing share in the lower tiers of the enterprise operating system marketplace, Unix vendors have scaled up.

Unix is already used as a platform for most business-critical and many mission-critical environments. In the enterprise landscape, IDC’s Kusnetzky says, Unix platforms offer many of the amenities that are part-and-parcel of mainframe environments, such as support for up to 64-processor SMP configurations, enhanced clustering, and system partitioning. Unix, therefore, still has an edge over Windows 2000 in the number of processors it supports.

Linux is beginning to threaten the Unix market place, however, and Sun’s decision to give Solaris 8 away free reinforces that view.

The notion of Sun’s operating system being truly free is not wholly accurate. Unlike Linux, Solaris users can't make changes to the source code or add on features to the source code for resale purposes. Also, Sun retains the copyright to the overall Solaris source.

Linux

Linux is the deity of open source worshippers. But to compete with its establishment Unix brethren and Windows 2000, Linux faces a number of challenges.

"Right now Linux does not have a position as an enterprise operating system whatsoever, except in a few narrow market niches," Kusnetzky says.

Kusnetzky continues that Linux is deployed primarily as an underground enterprise operating system, brought in as a means to provide simple firewall, mail or Web services, and a few other uses.

Linux faces the dual prospects of scaling up to the back-room server space and scaling down to the corporate desktop.

Because Linux is a variant of Unix, and because of Unix’s traditional difficulties as a desktop operating system for the masses, the move down to the desktop may pose the most difficulty for the open source system.

"While we certainly have been pushing Linux on the enterprise desktop, and while it is fairly viable for a lot of environments, right now it’s no replacement for Windows, because Windows works as a desktop operating system for most users," says Derik Belair, director of strategic applications at Corel Corp. (www.corel.com).

Corel unveiled the first release of its Corel Linux, based on the Debian Linux distribution (www.debian.org), in mid-November. Corel Linux is designed from the ground up as a Linux distribution for the corporate desktop. It includes the K Desktop Environment (www.kde.org), an X-Window manager that displays a GUI with a Windows-like look-and-feel. The operating system also ships with GraphOn Bridges technology from GraphOn Corp. (www.graphon.com). The software component allows client machines to run Windows or Unix applications over just about any kind of pipe, including low-bandwidth, dial-up, and wireless connections.

According to Steve Schafer, senior title manager for operating systems and technology at Macmillan USA Inc. (www.mcp.com), Linux faces a number of additional challenges on the enterprise desktop. Macmillan ships Mandrake Linux, a Linux distribution based on RedHat Linux 6.0 that, like Corel Linux, is geared for desktop users.

"There are two or three major hurdles to Linux adoption on the desktop. The first is support," Schafer explains. "If I’m using Windows and I have a problem, I can walk down the hall and snag one of the MIS guys; I can call Microsoft; I can take classes at CompUSA. None of these options are really viable for Linux right now."

Analysts suggest that in the back office, Linux’s potential will not challenge high-end uses of Unix, but will challenge Windows NT for its file and print market space. Samba, for instance, enables Linux boxes to serve as low-cost file servers or domain controllers for Windows clients.

But it’s the issue of support -- and support costs, in particular -- that is a hidden aspect of Linux’s use with established operating systems such as Windows NT or NetWare from Novell Inc. (www.novell.com).

Nico Kadel-Garcia, a consultant with Boston-based JOA Trades Inc., explains that in-house and external support costs still factor into the overall cost of any operating system. "From hard experience, nothing can replace the flexibility and support of a competent local administrator who masters the systems. And this administrator is the most expensive thing about using freeware solutions," he says.

Plus, MacMillan’s Schafer says Microsoft isn’t falling over itself to ensure that Windows 2000 and Linux systems coexist peacefully with one another.

"Although Microsoft has hinted at developing things for Linux, it’s really not in their best interest, and I have yet to see any real proof of that," he says. One unsubstantiated rumor is that Microsoft is contemplating porting it’s Office Suite to run on Linux.

IDC speculates that with increased support from OEMs and ISVs, Linux could become deployed more extensively across the enterprise. Linux's enterprise presence thus far has been confined to a few niche markets, especially in the area of Internet infrastructure services.

"It's for the most part doing ancillary tasks which, although important, aren't being perceived as critical tasks. That's changing, but that's where it is [now]," Kusnetzky explains.

The Future is Not Black and White

The system that will dominate at the end of this decade is not certain. But it is clear the landscape will change. Windows 2000 will achieve more mission-critical status, particularly as Windows 2000 Datacenter Server and 64-bit Windows pop up in networks.

As vendors work to bring Linux to the desktop, it will become a more viable option to replace Windows and other Unix flavors both on the client- and server-side. But overthrowing the current market leaders will not be an easy coup for the underground operating system.

And, of course, Unix is not going to disappear. Sun’s continued increase in shipments ensures its customers of that. Interoperability efforts by vendors such as HP and IBM will give companies reasons to keep older Unix boxes around longer.