Big Windows

Is Microsoft a valid contender in the enterprise systems arena?

Never a company to be discounted on any front, Microsoft appears to be edging closer to its goal of being a serious contender for large, high-transaction enterprise systems. If the words "Windows" and "data center" seem like oxymorons, Microsoft is working hard to change that thinking.

In 2000, Microsoft released Windows 2000 Datacenter Server and Advanced Server, operating systems in which Microsoft partners with OEMs like Unisys for hardware and support. On page 55, Dave Essex shows how the city of Minneapolis is using the Unisys ES7000, a mainframe-class box, to run both of those Microsoft products—and achieving high reliability and dramatically reduced costs. Currently, Unisys is the only Microsoft partner offering Datacenter Server that runs it on more than eight processors, but more are sure to follow.

On page 51, Jon Udell examines another way that Microsoft is spreading into the enterprise via its .NET Framework. Udell looks into Microsoft's broad and deeply layered enterprise strategy and concludes that even if you're not using Microsoft's products (unlikely), you'll need to interoperate with them. Elements of .NET will make that easier and may appeal to harried enterprise managers.

I talked with Scott Bekker, editor of sister publication ENT (; he's been following Microsoft's enterprise path for years. Is Microsoft ready for big data centers? "Not yet," he says, "but they're getting there."

With products like Datacenter Server, Scott says, Microsoft is getting the attention of enterprise managers. But the company has many hurdles to overcome, he says—and they know it. "Attitude is a big part of it. Microsoft realizes it needs to go a long way with services."

Both security and stability are also big hurdles. Appropriate configurations of IBM's OS/390 or z/OS operating systems, after all, return the vaunted five nines in reliability. That translates to less than five minutes of downtime a year—a standard that no Microsoft OS can now match. And IBM's z/OS mainframe operating system, shipping since summer 2000, has never been successfully hacked. That's a high bar.

Microsoft's presence at the SHARE conference in Nashville in March was telling. A large-systems, heavily IBM-focused show that teems with S/390 programmers and systems admins, SHARE has seen a low-level Microsoft presence for years. This year, Microsoft technical presenters again talked up Datacenter and Advanced Server in the enterprise, presenting performance benchmarks and cost-per-transaction figures that show its high-end Windows OSes competing well against high-end Unix systems. But Microsoft isn't just eyeing Sun and HP for the midrange area—one presenter alluded to Datacenter Server as a possible replacement for a mainframe as a back-end data store. "We're getting there," said Paul Morse, a Microsoft enterprise solutions manager who spoke. "Basically, there [aren't] too many high-end layers left."

SHARE attendees I talked to were mixed in their reactions to Microsoft's continuing battle for the hearts of data center managers. "You can't ever discount Microsoft," was a typical comment from one attendee, who manages Unix boxes at a Fortune 500 company. "If it's scalable, we'll look at it."

Will Microsoft's run for the data center prove successful in your company? And is that good or bad? Let me know where you see Windows next—I'm at

About the Author

Linda Briggs is the founding editor of MCP Magazine and the former senior editorial director of 101communications. In between world travels, she's a freelance technology writer based in San Diego, Calif.