By the normally manic standards of Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO, the release of Windows Server 2003 was a subdued occasion – no rock bands, no rallies, no massive media marketing campaign.
But then the aim of Windows Server 2003 is to help Microsoft forge its way deep into the heart of enterprise computing. And enterprise customers are less impressed by glitz and more focused on return-on-investment, reliability and speed of deployment.
With that in mind, the key attraction at the product launch was a group of early adopters talking about how they had used the operating system, particularly in conjunction with the Visual Studio .Net 2003 tool suite and the 64-bit SQL Server 2000 database, to improve their IT systems.
Many of the users Microsoft lined up were relative unknowns, but the enthusiasm of some big names, such as the London Stock Exchange (LSE), supermarket chain Tesco and the sprawling conglomerate Sea Containers, sends an ominous warning to rivals: Microsoft is now a credible enterprise software supplier.
The LSE, for example, has been developing information delivery products based on a combination of 64-bit Windows, 64-bit SQL Server 2000 and Microsoft’s Java-like development language C#.
The organisation already blasts raw market data to some 96,000 terminals around the world, within a split second of stock trades taking place. The aim of the new project was to enable it to offer customers more detailed market information by taking that raw trading data, performing various calculations on it and sending it on to customers’ terminals – again, all in less than a second.
It was by no means a straightforward project. Although Robin Smyth-Osbourne, one of the Accenture consultants who worked on the project, claims that it took half the time it would have done using alternative tools, it nevertheless required the skills of 45 developers for 10 months.
The LSE, an outpost for high-end Hewlett-Packard (HP) Non-Stop Kernel (NSK) hardware, is now considering other areas where it might deploy Microsoft-based systems.
For Tesco.com, the online shopping arm of Britain’s biggest supermarket chain, the shift to Windows Server 2003 is simply a logical next step.
“We are wall-to-wall Microsoft from the web site right back to the devices that the personal shoppers use when they go round the store,” says Tesco.com chief technical officer Mike McNamara. It has been 100% Microsoft since the online arm of the grocery chain was established in 1996. Back then, its environment was based on Windows NT 4.0. Now, the organisation is in the process of upgrading to Windows Server 2003.
“At the front end, we have a server farm that takes customer orders. Those are ultimately transmitted down to individual shops from where we pick the orders,” he says.
Upgrading the server farm to Windows Server 2003 was relatively straightforward and brought an immediate benefit of improved reliability, says McNamara. “We have also seen a 20% improvement in speed out-of-the-box and a significantly better performance under load,” he says.
Now, the organisation is in the process of re-writing the software used in-store from Visual Basic to C#, which, McNamara says, is a more productive environment. Once that is done, he plans to look into ways in which web services could be deployed.
Sea Containers is implementing an Active Directory-based upgrade from multiple NT4 domains as the first part of large-scale migration from HP OpenVMS-based systems towards a more Microsoft-centric IT infrastructure. “We are trying to get rid of our high cost VMS platforms. We need to move to web services and a much more customer centric set of applications,” says Duncan Scott, vice president of information services at Sea Containers.
In a bid to keep the organisation’s IT costs to a minimum, not to mention simplifying management, Scott has decided to focus corporate IT investment on the Microsoft ‘software stack’, to the exclusion of Sun Microsystems and IBM. This followed an evaluation of their respective merits. “We decided categorically to go with Microsoft,” says Scott.
There are a number of factors that fuelled this decision. The Microsoft environment promises easier application development and management tools, compared to the more complex Java-based alternatives offered by Sun and IBM, says Scott.