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NT Innovators


Organizations that let NT shine

No matter how technologically advanced a product is and no matter how much money a vendor spends marketing it, no product can be successful unless customers adopt it and use it in real-life situations. Deployment is the true mark of success for any product, including Windows NT. Therefore, in recognition of the customer's important role in determining the success or failure of a product, we are pleased to present the NT innovators­companies that have adopted NT-related technology and applied it to their real-life business problems in creative and innovative ways. The Windows NT Magazine editorial staff solicited the magazine's readership for nominees and selected the top NT innovators from the candidates submitted to our Web site.

NT LAN/WAN, EDI, and a BackOffice Solution
Conversion from VAX and IBM mainframes to an all-Windows NT solution that relies entirely on the BackOffice suite, provides Internet-based EDI, and gives users universal desktop fax capability--yes, that sounds pretty innovative. As the oldest and largest business credit insurer in the US and Canada, American Credit Indemnity (ACI) needs to access, analyze, and communicate credit information quickly. Based in Baltimore, Maryland, ACI has a staff of field agents, credit specialists, and underwriters in 40 offices across the US and Canada.

To leverage the latest technology and provide the best customer service, ACI decided to convert its VAX host and VT320 terminals and IBM hosts and 3270 terminals to a client/server solution. In 1993, ACI began to re-architect the company's network backbone and started looking for a network operating system. Although ACI had some experience with Novell NetWare and Digital Equipment's PATHWORKS, because of ACI's future client/server plans and NT's total desktop functionality and integration, the company decided to go with NT.

In December 1993, ACI installed NT 3.1 and spent the next 18 months re-architecting the network and building a client/server system with no ties to the company's legacy mainframe applications for processing. Today, ACI is a total NT shop. ACI has more than 30 NT servers, 300 Windows 95 workstations, and 40 NT 4.0 workstations throughout the US and Canada. The entire NT backbone connects each site through a direct connection at the home office, via frame relay at the regional offices, or via dial-up connectivity with Remote Access Service (RAS).

ACI uses Microsoft's entire BackOffice solution. SNA Server 2.1 lets ACI use EDI to connect to Dun & Bradstreet's mainframe computers and deliver reports to ACI's underwriters while simultaneously storing the reports in ACI's SQL Server 6.5 database.

ACI relies on Systems Management Server (SMS) 1.2 for inventorying, remote Help desk, and software distribution. Microsoft Exchange 4.0 provides ACI with corporatewide messaging and public folder replication. ACI uses Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS) 2.0 and a Raptor Systems Eagle NT firewall for Internet access. The company is in the process of implementing SQL Server and SNA Server EDI links to let its customers connect to its Web site and conduct business over the Internet with ACI's internal backbone.

To ensure that virtually every desktop in the enterprise can fax from the company's key software products (Word, Excel, Query Tools, and Exchange), ACI has taken an innovative approach. Omtool's Fax Sr. for NT 1.2.1 software examines the area code for the destination fax phone number and routes the fax over ACI's WAN to the geographically closest of nine fax servers. From there, the fax is sent as a local phone call. This approach lets ACI significantly save on long-distance charges and reduce paper handling. ACI can even schedule most faxes to go out at night to take advantage of low evening phone rates.

The same desktop faxing technology lets ACI automatically process hundreds of daily decision reports that the company previously printed in its data center, manually addressed, and faxed during the day. The new process, which ACI developed internally with the Omtool product, requires no human intervention. Now ACI can deliver reports to its policyholders first thing in the morning instead of late in the day.

CTI, Smart Terminals, and Clusters
For Bell Mobility of Toronto, Canada, innovation means designing a dramatic clustering solution based on Citrix's WinFrame (a multiuser implementation of Windows NT) and using computer telephone integration (CTI) to automatically access customer information. In the highly competitive world of cellular service, Bell Mobility is using NT to add features and service for its customers. The company runs advanced applications developed in PowerBuilder and Visual Basic (VB) in its Activations and Customer Service call centers. The Activations applications let Activation representatives transcribe incoming faxes, without ever touching paper, to establish cellular phone service for customers, and the Customer Service applications provide an interface for Customer Service representatives to view customer information. Advances in application design and increased demand for more robust applications led the company to consider a 32-bit platform, and Bell Mobility chose NT.

The company decided to move its Automatic Activation Processing System (AAPS) to NT in late 1995 to handle increased volume and alleviate stress on its systems and to provide a better platform for supporting additional software features. As part of its 32-bit solution, the company began using Citrix's WinFrame multiuser NT extensions for its corporate dial-in. Bell Mobility was concerned about WinFrame's ability to scale in a demanding environment, but the company was so impressed with the software's performance and robustness that it set up a trial WinFrame clustering solution for AAPS.

The company's application environment, which intermittently uses lots of processor cycles, was ideal for the WinFrame solution. Bell Mobility established scaleability by spreading its user base across additional WinFrame servers when the application load increased. Using Ghost Software's Ghost, Bell Mobility cloned and rolled out system drives on the multiple WinFrame servers. The company then used Octopus Technologies's Octopus to keep the application drives in synch and to distribute application updates in realtime.

One of the most noticeable benefits of the WinFrame solution has been the Help desk's ability to shadow the users. Now the Help desk can resolve many problems over the wire on the first call and minimize desktop visits.

Bell Mobility determined it can have 15 users per WinFrame server (Dual Pentium Pro HP Vectra XUs and Dell Optiplex GX Pros) with excellent performance. The Toronto center started with 7 WinFrame servers. Each had 256MB of RAM and a license for 25 users. To access a WinFrame server, a cluster controller finds the WinFrame server with the lightest load. The process is transparent to the user and works well, company representatives said.

Bell Mobility's applications are compute bound, so the company can use high-end desktop systems and apply more processor cycles per user with lower costs. To minimize downtime, the company performs a preemptive reboot at 2:00 a.m. daily. This approach helps ensure that if a WinFrame server goes down during the day, Bell Mobility loses only the 8 to 15 users on that particular server. With the cluster in place, the down server quickly ages out of the clustering browser table and the users can log straight back on to another WinFrame server.

Because of the initial success of the WinFrame project, Bell Mobility installed five additional WinFrame servers in its Montreal, Canada, Activations center and has just finished implementing a similar approach for its Customer Service call centers. Today, Bell Mobility's WinFrame configuration is completely clustered. The company has a production cluster of 32 WinFrame servers in Toronto and 22 in Montreal.

Distributed File, Messaging, and Internet Access
An innovative approach to designing a WAN so that students and faculty can access messages, files, and services from any school in the district brings new meaning to learning in the classroom. Bellingham Public Schools, an 18-school district in northwest Washington state, chose Windows NT as its network and server operating system because of NT's stability, compatibility, affordability, scaleability, and ease of administration. Beginning in 1994, the district infused nearly $6 million in technology into its curriculum, classrooms, and administration.

"A key factor in selecting NT was ease of administration," George Hartnell, the district's network supervisor, said. "School staff can carry out routine server management functions without extensive technical training." Jim Stevens, the district's director of business and finance, said he liked the low cost per seat for licensing client workstations under Microsoft's Select Licensing program. "Our success in meeting educational technology goals is largely the result of selecting NT as the foundation for networking desktop and server systems, linking LANs into a comprehensive WAN, and efficiently delivering resources and services," superintendent Dale Kinsley said.

John Getchell, the district's computer services manager, said he believes that NT's ability to adapt to the technological evolution of desktop and server hardware and software was also a deciding factor. "Migration to Windows 95 and deployment of tools such as SMS, SQL Server, and Exchange Server are all facilitated by using NT as a base network operating system," he said.

The district has about 1900 PCs and 50 Macintoshes. Each school has multiple file and resource servers running NT and servicing the needs of local users. The schools connect to the central office through a point-to-point T1 circuit that multiplexes telephone and data traffic. Multiple servers at the central district headquarters handle the needs of central office users and provide directory and database replication services for the entire district. The central office connects the district to the Internet via a frame relay T1 to the Washington Educational Network.

The district WAN comprises more than 11,000 users including more than 9000 student accounts. Each student from the third grade up has an account and home directory on a local server. Students and staff can go to any school in the district and seamlessly obtain their mail and access their home directory. Email is distributed via 52 Microsoft Mail post offices at 19 locations. Microsoft Windows for Workgroups (WFW) 3.11 is the standard desktop operating environment, and Microsoft applications such as Word, Works, Excel, Access, and Publisher are the standard desktop software.

"Windows NT has been the least problematic of the factors affecting the district's technology rollout," Getchell said. "The only area that has surfaced as a potential problem is Microsoft's recent decision to discontinue support of NEC's MIPS-based RISC servers after NT 4.0. We use these servers as a core technology throughout the district, and Microsoft's decision has caused some concern about the viability of today's infrastructure in the near term. It is unlikely that the district will be able to afford a wholesale replacement of these system with Intel-based machines."

Bellingham Public Schools plans to open a new high school in fall 1998. Because of carefully laid groundwork, the district expects that incorporating the new school's NT-based LAN into the WAN infrastructure will be a smooth transition with little or no impact on network activities at the other schools.

OOP with VC++, MFC, ActiveX, and UNIX and IBM Migration
After its merger with Chemical Bank in 1996, Chase Manhattan Bank began an ambitious and innovative project using object-oriented design with Visual C++ (VC++), the Microsoft Foundation Classes (MFC), and ActiveX to re-engineer its commercial lending system. The project let the bank consolidate several programs and time-intensive paper-based procedures. To help with the Commercial Lending Re-engineering (CLR) project, the bank asked Ron Benvenisti of Benvenisti Data Systems, an independent consultant specializing in Microsoft Windows, to help Chase deploy and support the new Commercial Lending System. "The project is a soup-to-nuts re-engineering of the bank's lending system," Benvenisti said.

CLR's mandate was to streamline the workflow process of commercial loans from initiation to submission and approval. To meet this challenge, the shop is using VC++ and MFC on Windows NT to develop Windows GUI client applications and Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) and ActiveX server applications. These programs simplify work processes and move data from a mainframe environment to a networked client/server model. NT was a clear choice in this application-development role because much of the technology (SNA Server for mainframe connectivity, Open Database Connectivity--ODBC--for database connectivity, and MS Access and Query for database maintenance) is Microsoft based with server components that take advantage of the NT 32-bit API. The CLR shop has already developed new Windows GUI-based transaction initiation and credit arrangement applications that are easy to learn and use. These applications use an extensible and reusable object-oriented architecture that communicates with new and legacy applications and databases running on UNIX, CICS, IMS, and IBM systems.

The bank's legacy lending system consisted of terminal-based mainframe applications, many of which still exist. As LAN technology proliferated, the bank's mainframe access evolved into disparate combinations of cards, emulators, gateways, and DLLs bolted onto homegrown Windows-based applications built with PowerBuilder and VB. Chase began using NT in August 1995 to eliminate this access technology and replace it with SNA Server and TCP/IP over Ethernet. To satisfy the user's need to access a loan application at any part of the lending process without the use of proprietary applications, the CLR shop made NT a core technology for application development, deployment, and networking.

CLR maintains more than 12 NT Servers in 3 domains to connect about 100 NT Workstation clients and a handful of WFW and Win95 clients. Because CLR is a development shop within a bank, it must adhere to strict audit requirements for change control and application rollouts. CLR uses the 32-bit Visual SourceSafe under NT to ensure that the shop never releases programs to production directly from development without first going through Quality Assurance (QA). The shop can isolate the development environment from the QA and testing environments because of NT's domain-based architecture--each group is on a separate domain.

The 1997 Information Model enterprise rollout for the entire bank is based on NT 4.0. Chase Manhattan Bank will migrate about 20,000 WFW clients running on a Novell network to NT. The CLR shop feels fortunate that it won't have to change much in its approach for the new year. "We've been enjoying the benefits of NT for quite some time," Benvenisti said.

Unattended Setup, SYSDIFF, and Personalized Exchange Mailboxes
Being among the first in the world to automatically build and deploy Windows NT 4.0 with OEM techniques is an innovative way to do business. The Cumbria constabulary, one of England's 44 police forces, needed to improve its information flow to help its bobbies spend less time performing administrative tasks and more time on the beat. The constabulary was using a legacy infrastructure based on Unisys CTOS, a proprietary character-based OS, to run many of its applications. The force is now in the process of migrating these applications to advanced client/server and intranet technologies, many of which are NT-based. One such legacy application is the Command and Control system for managing 999 (equivalent to US 911) calls. Two monitors attached to an NT workstation display an online mapping system and the nearest available police resources. The constabulary plans to use radio technology to automatically feed every officer position into the map, so that the system is accurate up to the second.

The constabulary enlisted the services of Dimensions Plus, a consultancy specializing in Microsoft technologies and based in London, to fast-track the design and implementation of an advanced and reliable IT infrastructure for 650 NT Workstation PCs throughout the force. The UK Police IT Strategy mandates the use of secure 32-bit operating systems, so an NT and BackOffice solution was a natural choice for the Cumbria Constabulary clients and servers.

For the infrastructure, the constabulary relies on a domain model, Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) and Windows Internet Name Service (WINS), networked user profiles, system policies, account and group standards, and directory and network share standards. For systems management, Microsoft SMS 1.2 provides standard inventory, software distribution, and remote control. Tally Systems's Cenergy gives the force a suite of products, including Seagate's WinINSTALL for application installation, CentaMeter for metering software licensing, and NetCensus for inventorying software.

The Dimensions Plus project team was among the first in the world to successfully use NT 4.0's unattended setup features to deploy the operating system and sysdiff to customize each PC build to load preconfigured applications. These applications include Office 95, Exchange Client, two terminal emulation packages (PC Cluster for accessing the legacy CTOS systems and JSB's MultiView for accessing UNIX applications), Data Fellows's F-PROT virus software, CentaMeter license metering software, systems management agents, and other police applications. Each PC's configuration includes customizations such as Word macros and templates and predefined ODBC datasources.

The constabulary has networked more than 30 sites through frame relay and Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN), with Ethernet locally. Dimensions migrated the force's email from CTOS Mail to Microsoft Exchange. Previously, users of the same job function shared CTOS Mail mailboxes. The migration included transferring these shared mailboxes to personal mailboxes under Exchange. The constabulary achieved coexistence and migration by using Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) connectivity between the two mail systems and by setting auto-forwarding on the old mailboxes to direct mail to the new ones.

The new GUI-based applications have replaced character- and paper-based systems at the police headquarters, and the constabulary plans to use laptops in the field. The officers had resisted using the legacy computer systems because the systems were hard to learn and time consuming, and the officers were more likely to introduce errors when doing routine tasks such as taking statements. With the new systems in place, the officers are more likely to use the new GUI-based applications because the applications are more intuitive, presentable, and accurate than the previous systems. Another big advantage to the new systems is that as officers feed information into the new applications, they create more information that they can search. This approach directly affects the ability of the officers to find information quickly when responding to a crime.

Largest Internetwork, Global Resource Sharing
Digital Equipment found an innovative solution to connect its users and customers. The company designed and implemented the world's largest private network with global resource sharing. To better serve its customers, Digital Equipment needed to develop and implement an effective communications system for its 50,000+ multinational workforce.

Over the years, the company's existing messaging infrastructure developed into various systems and services (mostly VAX systems running a combination of All-In-One mail, VMSmail, and UNIX products). From an economic standpoint, this complex mix was difficult to manage, operate, and use. As a result, Digital was unable to integrate its cross-business unit processes. For example, Digital's business practices did not have an elegant way of collaborating or accessing the Internet or the company intranet with the existing environment.

To remedy the situation, Digital incorporated its own technology into a Windows NT and BackOffice solution as part of its NT Domain infrastructure to create the world's largest internetwork (next to the Internet). Digital's domain originally was based on a VAX VMS platform. In 1995, Digital began converting its domain to NT as a core networking platform because NT is less expensive to manage and maintain, it can integrate with other computing environments, and it can use off-the-shelf solutions such as BackOffice.

The NT-based domain includes more than 450 sites in 100 countries on 6 continents. Digital's field technicians can now use their laptops to dial in to the domain with RAS and access the resources they need from anywhere in the world, a feat they could have never achieved under the legacy VMS system. This functionality translates into a direct savings in both time and cost for Digital.

Digital is using Exchange Server for email because of its ease of integration with other mail systems and its workflow capabilities across the enterprise. Exchange lets Digital's employees collaborate on projects and share information­another feature that wasn't possible before. Other BackOffice technologies in Digital's solution include NetMeeting for group conferencing, NT-based file and print services (shares), and SMS's asset management services.

To date, Digital has deployed NT Exchange Server to provide messaging and Internet and intranet access for more than 17,000 users, with enough capacity for 40,000. This implementation makes Digital's NT and Exchange infrastructure second only to Microsoft's.

Data Warehousing with SQL Server
The Medical Center at Bowling Green, Kentucky, is using Windows NT as part of its innovative solution to extract data from legacy databases for analysis with SQL Server. Like many hospitals nationwide, Bowling Green is using a legacy healthcare information system. The center has struggled to meet the decision support needs of the organization because the legacy system's report writer has limited functionality, is difficult to use, and has a negative effect on the response time when reports include large amounts of data. The mainframe system does not support access to all data fields, and it dictates expensive maintenance and support.

The need for a more timely and robust solution led the hospital to The Shams Group, a consulting and software integrator in the hospital industry. In early 1996, Bowling Green began a project to implement The Shams Group's data warehouse and repository software, GALAXY, which resides on a relational database management system running on NT Server. The GALAXY software duplicates the hospital's hierarchical databases, which are based on a proprietary technology called MAGIC, into a relational Microsoft SQL Server database.

Hospital executives can then use Microsoft Access or another ODBC-compliant application as a front-end to view and analyze the data. For example, with a simple point and click, an executive can determine the average inpatient hospital stay and outcome per patient type for each physician, and compare physicians by cost and best outcome.

The relational database also improves the hospital staff's ability to access and index the information and speeds the reporting process tremendously. Reports the hospital was typically generating in 3 days can now be reported in 10 minutes or less.

Bowling Green's legacy network configuration consists of more than 1100 devices, including 800 workstations. Many of these clients are terminals, but the hospital is upgrading these systems to PCs to take advantage of the Windows-based technology. The new NT-based infrastructure gives the hospital credible security and provides a low-maintenance, user-friendly Windows atmosphere for the hospital's managers.

Because NT is not proprietary, the hospital can easily connect its other systems such as its Novell server, which houses some departmental applications, to NT for easy data integration. This feature wasn't possible with previous technologies. Today more than half the NT-based data warehousing application installations are complete, and user feedback has been positive. The hospital has reduced the administrative workload because of the reduced time necessary for performing tasks and will save millions of dollars by turning a multitude of data into a gold mine of information and knowledge, administrators said.

Quick NT Imaging and Installs with CPS and REGINI
Pratt and Whitney Florida, which develops jet fighter and space shuttle engines for the US government found an innovative way to use the Windows NT 3.51 Resource Kit Computer Profile Setup (CPS) utilities, regini utility, and standard video and peripheral configurations to easily convert its 2000 WFW clients and servers to NT 3.51. The company had used WFW since early 1994 to run MS Office 4.3, Hummingbird Communications's Exceed, MS Mail, Netscape Navigator, and 3270 emulation.

Pratt and Whitney decided to switch to NT because of its stability and security. As a result, the company started a pilot NT group in mid-1995.

When choosing from the available tools to perform an NT rollout, Pratt and Whitney decided to use the NT 3.51 Resource Kit CPS utilities to create a master image that the company could copy to every machine. The company had to find innovative ways to solve several installation-related problems before it could start its NT rollout.

Pratt and Whitney had to initially maintain and test more than six different configurations for the various kinds of PCs the company needed to convert to NT. Although the CPS utilities let Pratt and Whitney profile like machines, the company had to find a way around maintaining unique profiles for each combination of video chipsets. A master image video configuration set at VGA mode and to include the necessary video chipset drivers on that master configuration for use at install time overcame this limitation.

Pratt and Whitney also had to install certain hardware peripherals under NT. The company had to troubleshoot some products that at first glance appeared to work well under NT. For example, the company installed a parallel port Iomega Zip drive only to realize that the drive's software tools require Administrator privileges to function. The company obtained NT drivers from the vendors and the Internet for most of its hardware peripherals.

To install NT on its machines, Pratt and Whitney combined batch files and custom software developed inhouse to get the entire installation process down to 40 minutes for the 100MB image profile. In addition to the CPS utilities to mirror the master image, Pratt and Whitney used a utility on the NT 3.51 Resource Kit, regini, to isolate some missing hive keys and replace or reset them in the Registry after the installation as necessary. This post-installation procedure gave Pratt and Whitney an opportunity to add missing items such as TCP/IP domain suffixes. Pratt and Whitney also used the User Profile Editor to preserve items that CPS might otherwise not have duplicated.

Pratt and Whitney's NT rollout has been successful thanks to a team effort. Team members Frank Merizalde, Mitch Jaffe, Dara Hatten, Roy Allem, and Cindy Dupont contributed to the project. Together, the image profile testing and piloting teams coordinated with other teams responsible for mail, UNIX, office products, and Internet access to test the image profile thoroughly before its production release. As the company looks ahead to a similar rollout with NT 4.0, you can bet it will be a similar team effort.

Pen-based Computing, Wireless LANs, and Shared Access The medical community in Monterey County, California, is using pen-based technology and wireless LANs with MediWorks software to let the staff physically move around an office or hospital without a wired connection. Doctors can quickly choose items off their screens and jot hand-written notes while making rounds. This innovative approach is just part of the medical community's efforts to share patient information.

In 1991, Monterey County in California formed a consortium of medical professionals to establish a community-wide patient information system. The consortium lead to The Independent Provider Health Information Network (TIPHIN). TIPHIN's goal was to find an efficient way to share patient records in the community while decreasing administrative costs and increasing the quality of patient care. TIPHIN turned to Corporatech, a technology solutions provider, to develop a solution.

The patient record system had to meet the needs of more than 200 offices and 1000 users in the community. Some of these medical offices had no current electronic patient records, and some hospitals had large proprietary databases. The system needed to be able to expand quickly to add other communities. It also needed to provide several services, including messaging (text, voice, and video), electronic forms, systems management, a community intranet, online mass data storage and retrieval, fault tolerance, 24 X 7 service, server mirroring, backup capabilities, distributed database information management, and future Internet connections.

The medical community decided to implement a Windows NT-based solution. Although Corporatech considered UNIX for its extensive capability and Novell for its enterprisewide system structure, the company recommended an NT-based solution. The NT solution won because of its low administration costs, high systems integrity and integration with other environments, expandability in large enterprise database structures, seamless integration of BackOffice products, and a growing supply of third-party products.

TIPHIN is using NT on HP NetServers for file-and-print services with several replication and mirrored sites. The workstations use Win95 and pen-based technology. Each medical office is connected through ISDN or other communications to the main hub at TIPHIN's site.

As part of the patient records system, the medical community incorporated Microsoft's BackOffice because of its one-stop shopping solution. NT Server provides a fault-tolerant, secure environment, and SMS handles the offsite systems management. The medical community uses Exchange for messaging, groupware, and electronic forms, and SQL Server for its client/server database solution.

Future plans for TIPHIN's pen-based and wireless LAN technology include letting physicians go to any office or hospital within TIPHIN's domain and connect without being connected. So, for example, a doctor receiving a message to rush to the hospital will be able to pull up the patient's history and know the patient's present illness and what room the patient is in before the doctor even walks in the door.

With the solution in place, NT provides the medical community with enterprise scaleability, ease of administration, and the ability to adapt quickly at a low cost. As a result, TIPHIN maintains a low overhead with high expandability, and the medical community has cost-effective functionality and easy access to the medical information it needs.

Corrections to this Article:

  • "NT Innovators" incorrectly identified George Morris of Bell Mobility as Glenn Morris.
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