To deploy or not to deploy — that's the question foremost in the minds of IS planners as they begin to evaluate the second beta of Windows NT 5.0. When is it safe to migrate? How do you weigh the risks associated with a major new operating system (OS) release against the potential benefits of Active Directory (AD), IntelliMirror, and the rest of NT 5.0's features?
According to Giga Information Group, an IS advisory services company known for its conservative stance on NT, you can't weigh the risks against the benefits. As a result, Giga is arguing against adopting NT Server 5.0 until after Microsoft ships the third service pack—and even then Giga says you need to adopt NT Server 5.0 in a very controlled fashion. As for NT Workstation 5.0, Giga advises that you don't touch it until you have to.
Because Giga has more than 800 clients, most of whom are senior IS decision makers at large international companies, its comments fueled the headlines of several technology weeklies. Giga claims to have extensively researched NT 5.0's enterprise readiness before unveiling its conservative recommendations. However, some industry analysts disagree with Giga's recommendations. Right or wrong, the industry's reaction to Giga's comments reveals a deep-seated concern over NT's role in the enterprise.
Rather than challenge Giga's assertions with just opinion, I've decided to measure the risk vs. reward of an early NT 5.0 migration. I'll be looking hard at the NT 5.0 beta in an effort to assess how significant the potential risks are. I'll then summarize my findings in a future issue of Windows NT Magazine. My goal is simple: To provide you with the information you need to decide whether NT 5.0 is a hot-button issue and worthy of immediate attention or a go-slow technology overhaul that belongs on the back burner of the IS stove.
Office 2000 Is Coming into Focus
With the forthcoming Office 2000 productivity suite due in beta by the end of summer, Microsoft has been releasing details about the product's new Web integration features. The suite's Office Web Discussions capability will let users collaborate over the Internet, whereas its Office Web Components will let users more easily extract data from otherwise static Web pages. However, the feature that is stealing the limelight isn't Web-related. The suite's Installer technology--part of IntelliMirror, a Zero Administration for Windows (ZAW) mechanism in Windows NT 5.0--is a repair function. Installer will automatically repair malfunctioning applications on the fly. Through a new table-driven setup architecture, Office 2000 can repair an installation that has become corrupted or is missing a setting or component file.
Installer will also let you preconfigure an Office 2000 installation, selecting those applications and subcomponents you want to install on users' systems. For example, you can preconfigure Office 2000 so that the core productivity applications of Word and Excel, but not the Microsoft Info utility, install locally on users' systems. Another way in which you can control Office 2000 deployments is by preconfiguring how users gain access to optional components. For example, you can preconfigure Microsoft Graph to install on demand.
Although Office 2000 provides an interesting glimpse of where Microsoft is going with Installer, customers will fully realize Installer's real benefits only when they move to an NT 5.0 environment. Once that happens, capabilities such as install-on-demand and seamless, client-side persistent caching will help organizations move toward distributed computing. Until then, organizations can use a subset of these benefits by deploying Office 2000 on NT 4.0.
TerraServer: One Serious Proof of Concept!
What do you do with an 8-way Alpha server and some time to kill? Why, map the earth, of course! Microsoft's TerraServer project is an ambitious attempt to demonstrate the power of the company's forthcoming SQL Server 7.0 relational database platform. Using aerial photography data compiled by the US Geological Survey and Aerial Images, Microsoft is delivering a birds-eye view of rooftops, swimming pools, and even automobiles (but not people).
When you first visit the project's Web site (http://www.terraserver.microsoft.com), you'll likely spend some time zooming in to your neighborhood, favorite vacation spots, and other points of inter-est. However, once the newness wears off, the reality of what you're seeing sinks in: The TerraServer database contains more than 3.5TB of uncompressed data. (The compressed database size is 1TB.)
Microsoft claims TerraServer is the largest publicly accessible database on the Internet, a statement that, so far, has gone unchallenged. More important, Microsoft is hosting TerraServer entirely on its software, which speaks volumes about the scalability and capacity of SQL Server 7.0.
The server hardware consists of a Compaq AlphaServer 8400 with eight 400MHz 64-bit Alpha CPUs connected to a Compaq StorageWorks Enterprise Storage Array 10000 subsystem. Storage Technology's 9710 and 9714 DLT libraries provide system backups. The 9714 provides as much as 3.5TB of uncompressed data storage at a throughput rate of 108GB per hour. The system uses NetWorker storage management software from Legato Systems for backup and disaster recovery.
Does TerraServer prove that Microsoft has finally mastered the nuances of enterprise database management? Probably not. Although TerraServer is an impressive single-system feat, a more impressive demonstration would have been to deploy SQL Server 7.0 across multiple servers in a clustered configuration--a scenario more representative of current database architecture trends. Still, you've got to hand it to the Microsoft SQL Server marketing team members. They certainly know how to make a statement.
AT&T Sues Microsoft Over Contract
What's in a name? If you're AT&T, it could be the future of a potentially lucrative source code licensing agreement. In a development that took most of the industry by surprise, the telecommunications giant filed suit against Microsoft in a US District Court in New Jersey. In the complaint, AT&T claims breach of contract and intentional interference with AT&T's prospective business advantage.
At stake is a source code license for Windows NT. AT&T and Microsoft negotiated the backroom licensing deal in 1991 and renewed the relationship in 1994. Microsoft is now trying to revoke it. AT&T uses the source code in its Advanced Server for UNIX, which AT&T claims is an important tool for integrating Windows and UNIX. Many UNIX vendors resell Advanced Server for UNIX under a different name as a component of their various UNIX offerings. However, nearly all the current Advanced Server for UNIX resellers--Data General, Digital Equipment, Groupe Bull, HP, ICL, NCR, and Siemens Nixdorf Informationssysteme AG--are also Microsoft enterprise partners, obviating the need for Advanced Server for UNIX in many cases.
In the suit, AT&T is seeking current builds of the NT source code and an unspecified amount for compensatory and punitive damages. AT&T might have a legitimate claim. According to sources close to the company, AT&T is challenging Microsoft based on AT&T's interpretation of language within the original contract. Microsoft apparently agreed to provide access to source code for NT 3.x, for NT 4.x, and for "Cairo, a future version of Windows NT."
AT&T will argue that Cairo is synonymous with NT 5.0 and that Microsoft knew it was agreeing to license the NT 5.0 platform as part of the overall contract. Microsoft will likely counter that the contract did not define Cairo and that Microsoft uses Cairo as blanket term to describe a variety of technologies, not a specific product.
You can expect lots of expert testimony from industry insiders who will testify for and against the Cairo-as-NT-5.0 connection. L.A. Law it isn't, but at least those Microsoft legal eagles won't go hungry.
Microsoft Pushes NT Workstation 4.0
In a bid to keep the upgrade sales flowing, Microsoft outlined recommendations regarding client operating system (OS) migration of Windows NT 5.0. Not surprisingly, the company has come out against widespread corporate adoption of Windows 98 and is instead advocating NT Workstation 4.0 as the best short-term migration path. Microsoft's logic behind this recommendation is that Win98's Registry is sufficiently different from that of NT so that a seamless upgrade to NT 5.0 might not be possible from Win98. Microsoft is therefore recommending that customers bite the bullet and start migrating workstations to NT 4.0. By beginning the migration to NT Workstation, organizations will be better prepared to upgrade directly to NT 5.0, according to Microsoft.
Microsoft's newfound interest in promoting NT 4.0 as a client OS will no doubt strike many in the NT user community as ironic. NT Workstation users have long taken a back seat to Win9x users in terms of public endorsement by Microsoft. With Microsoft now declaring NT 4.0 as the platform of choice for customers seeking the next step beyond DOS and Windows 3.x, many of these users no doubt feel vindicated, if not prescient.
Of course, Registry conflicts aren't the only points of concern in a Win98-to-NT 5.0 migration. As veteran NT deployment technicians will attest, subtle nuances at the hardware level can make or break an NT installation. Nuances such as bus timing and BIOS shadowing and caching can make installing NT onto a legacy Pentium-class PC a challenge. These nuances also make the task of qualifying NT 5.0-compatible hardware much more important. For example, just because a device says Plug and Play (PnP) on the box doesn't mean that it will work under NT 5.0. New software and hardware technologies, such as the Windows Driver Model (WDM) and Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI), are necessary before NT 5.0 can strut its autoconfiguration stuff. NT 5.0 will likely better support those devices that qualify and have supporting drivers under NT 4.0 than those devices that are currently NT-hostile.
Toothless Wolfpack to Ship with NT 5.0
Customers who were looking to Windows NT 5.0 as a solution to a 2-node ceiling in Microsoft Cluster Server (MSCS--formerly code-named Wolfpack) will have to look elsewhere. Microsoft has decided not to roll out its Phase 2 MSCS initiative until after Windows NT 5.0 ships next year, which means customers will be lucky to see any improvement beyond the current 2-node system before the turn of the century. (For more information about clustering, see Mark Smith, "NT Clustering Solutions Are Here," June 1998. For more information about MSCS, see Richard R. Lee, "MSCS Update," June 1998.)
NT 5.0 will have a few MSCS enhancements, such as load balancing enhancements and rolling operating system (OS) and services upgrades. "This feature set is locked and loaded, said Ed Muth, a Microsoft NT program manager. However, NT 5.0 still won't support clustering of application services, such as Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS). According to Muth, Microsoft is slating this capability for the post-NT 5.0 timeframe. Other MSCS capabilities that are missing include support for COM+ and software RAID support.
For enterprise IS shops wanting to take NT to the next level of clustering reliability and performance, NT 5.0 is a major disappointment. This Wolfpack has no bite behind its bark.
System Preparation Tool to Ease NT Deployment
In a move that surprised no one, Microsoft announced this past spring that it would finally embrace the practice of system cloning as a means for large-scale Windows NT rollouts. However, few expected Microsoft to go so far as to develop new software technology in support of the process.
Later this year, Microsoft plans to release the Microsoft System Preparation Tool for Windows NT Workstation 4.0, a free utility that you can use with ghosting software packages to streamline the process of creating cloned NT PCs. The procedure is relatively straightforward: You create an image PC to serve as the cloning source machine and include the System Preparation Tool as part of the installed software configuration. When you boot a cloned version of the source machine, the System Preparation Tool automatically generates an appropriate security ID (SID) for the system.
The System Preparation Tool is great news for systems administrators who have been walking the fine line between the need for Microsoft licensing compliance and the desire to simplify large-scale NT Workstation rollouts. Before Microsoft's announcement, the only supported way to install NT was to use the CD-ROM.
Netscape Drops JVM— A Sign of the
Many analysts are interpreting Netscape's decision to drop out of the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) business as a sign that hard times are ahead for proponents of the write once, run anywhere programming language. By declaring the client-side Java development strategy (i.e., the notion that you can compile a Java application once and deploy it across any vendor's JVM) untenable, Netscape has set back the anti-Windows coalition.
Some analysts believe that the client-side Java will fail anyway because, although the strategy looks great on paper, it isn't panning out. Too many JVM permutations, coupled with a refusal by the language's developer, Sun Microsystems, to surrender control of Java to a standards body, will ultimately doom the architecture.
Netscape's defection leaves IBM and Sun Microsystems as the only serious proponents of client-side Java technology. (For a complete list of JVM players, see Dana Gardner and Niall McKay, "Netscape Drops Development of Java Virtual Machines," at http://www.infoworld.com/cgi-bin/displayArchive.pl?/98/27/t08-27.8.htm.) Most other enterprise developers are looking to Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB)--a server-side implementation that lets you create cross-platform enterprise server applications--as the best way to leverage the nascent development platform. However, analysts are already raising questions about EJB's suitability for that task.
For example, EJB technology requires that each platform vendor develop an appropriate wrapper to network-enable the hosted Beans. Because some platform vendors are also software developers, competitive pressures might ultimately drive these vendors to incorporate proprietary tweaks to support their JavaBean solutions. Proprietary implementations, in turn, might fragment the EJB market in much the same way that proprietary JVM hooks fragmented the client-side Java market.
Competition from Microsoft and the component object model (COM), distributed COM (DCOM), and COM+ communities might also undermine EJB development. The growing popularity of Windows NT as an application server and Microsoft's willingness to literally give away developer tools and technology to gain market and mind share, might render the entire EJB argument moot, at least at the departmental and workgroup server level.
Is there hope for Java in any flavor? Perhaps. Digitivity (now owned by Citrix Systems) is performing amazing feats with server-side Java. Digitivity is taking a radical approach to solve the frustrating problem of client-side JVM compatibility. Digitivity's solution takes calls from the Abstract Windowing Toolkit (AWT) of a server-side application and redirects them to a lean client running natively on Windows, Macintosh, or another platform. With new owner Citrix behind the technology, who knows where it might lead?
NT 5.0 to Include Terminal Server
Windows NT 5.0 seems to include everything, including the kitchen sink. Microsoft revealed that it will integrate the core technologies of Windows NT Server 4.0, Terminal Server Edition into Windows NT Server 5.0. All NT Server 5.0-based installations will be multiuser capable. In other words, customers need only turn on the feature to enable access by devices and clients using the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). (How customers will turn on the feature remains unclear.) Microsoft is reportedly considering a similar, although more limited, capability in NT Workstation 5.0.
Microsoft officials are debating whether to ship NT 5.0 with the multiuser subsystems in place or to install the subsystems as an option from the NT Server 5.0 CD-ROM. No matter how Microsoft delivers Terminal Server to NT 5.0, it'll likely generate controversy, because Terminal Server will contribute to the already enormous NT 5.0 code base. As Mark Russinovich reported in "Inside Microsoft Terminal Server," (July 1998), the Terminal Server hack isn't a minor one. Citrix Systems (the original designers of the MultiWin architecture) and Microsoft have had to perform a fairly impressive juggling act with win32k.sys just to make multiuser NT work. Now, with all of the other changes and new technologies slated for NT 5.0, Terminal Server's inclusion is generating groans throughout the analyst community.
New SQL Server Magazine
Windows NT Magazine announces the launch of SQL Server Magazine, an independent guide to SQL Server as a business application platform. Each month, you'll find coverage on interoperability, migration, development and implementation strategies, availability, scalability, security, and data warehousing. For more information or to subscribe, go to the SQL Server Magazine Web site at http://www.sqlmag.com.
Microsoft to Use NetIQ's AppManager for NT
Microsoft has selected NetIQ's AppManager product line to manage its network of Windows NT systems and applications. AppManager will provide centralized performance and event management to monitor the health and availability of all Microsoft production NT servers and server applications (such as Exchange Server, SQL Server, and Internet Information Server—IIS) that run on those servers.
Microsoft selected NetIQ because of AppManager's depth of monitoring across NT and BackOffice, use of SQL Server as a database and Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) as a scripting language, and ease of implementation and customization. NetIQ and Microsoft will collaborate on future versions of AppManager.
This contract is NetIQ's largest to date and one of the largest NT contract wins by any systems management vendor. It will reposition NetIQ in the NT industry. For more information about this announcement and AppManager, contact NetIQ, 408-556-0888, or on the Web, http://www.netiq.com. Or contact Microsoft, 425-882-8080, or on the Web, http://www.microsoft.com.