Windows NT: The Tool Box That Has Them Talking
Windows NT: The Tool Box That Has Them Talking<@VM>Number Games<@VM>Good Case Study<@VM>One-Stop Shop<@VM>The Next Level<@VM>Automated System
By John Makulowich
The computer industry's current whipping boy, Microsoft Corp., seems to be getting it from all sides. Along with the Justice Department, now in a six-week recess in its antitrust trial of the Redmond, Wash.-based company, industry heavyweights like Oracle Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. are taking pot shots at the software giant.
Amid the legal issues, controversy about business practices and market scuffling, however, the fact remains that Microsoft's server operating system ? now known as Windows NT but with a follow-on, newly named Windows 2000 set for shipment later this year ? is growing by leaps and bounds.
According to International Data Corp., Framingham Mass., worldwide sales of servers (hardware) last year came to $59 billion. That was nearly a third of the volume accounted for by the market for PCs.
More to the point, IDC noted that the worldwide market for server operating systems grew by more than 25 percent in 1998 vs. just over 15 percent in 1997. That growth was fueled by increased shipments of Linux, Microsoft NT Server, Novell Netware and Unix.
The fastest growing server operating environments by units shipped were Microsoft NT and Linux. However, the revenue leader was Unix, followed by NT and Novell NetWare. IDC found that in 1998, Microsoft's Windows NT Server grew 27.2 percent to 1.56 million units, while combined Unix SOE shipments grew only 4.1 percent.
Up and coming Novell Netware grew 13.6 percent to more than 1 million units; Linux license shipments grew a whopping 212.5 percent and accounted for more than 17 percent of all SOE units shipped.
Beyond the marketshare figures, the issues of compatibility and interoperability remain more critical for government enterprise administrators and operators seeking to coordinate the tens and even hundreds of applications and devices running on their networks, from financial and database software to scanners and digital cameras.
While Microsoft weighs in with its suite of different applications ? from database programs through word processing to presentation packages ? rivals continue to tout their products, often claiming they hold more share of market or even work better on the NT platform.
For example, Oracle, the Redwood Shores, Calif., relational database leader, claims a large, growing amount of its products run on NT, both databases and applications. To make its point, Oracle trots out names of federal customers using NT, like the U.S. Postal Service and the Air Force Materiel Command.
The Microsoft rival even sports a bulleted list of Oracle on NT Milestones in its press materials:
Oracle is the first database to be released on NT operating system ? 1993
Oracle database is named lowest total cost of ownership over life cycle ? Business Research Group, 1997
Oracle named Most Influential Database on NT for 1997 and 1998 ? NT Magazine
Oracle is the world record holder on NT ? TPC-D and TPC-C benchmarks
Oracle is named winner on NT with partners and reselling for reliability, scalability, support and services ? Computer Reseller News, June 1998
Oracle leads with 41 Percent of the NT Database Market Share ? Gartner Group, 1998
Not to be outdone, another Microsoft rival, Sun Microsystems Inc., Palo Alto, Calif., announced late in 1998 that its Trusted Solaris operating environment "continues to outdistance Windows NT in the increasingly important area of security."
Profiling features that could hide sensitive data from unauthorized access, viewing or copying, the company noted that the Trusted Solaris operating environment was the most sophisticated security-enhanced Unix operating system it had yet produced.
Why is all this important? Aside from the confusion it generates in the minds of potential buyers about who and what is best, it casts doubt about how best to implement an enterprisewide system. Of course, Microsoft would like nothing better than to have its individual products and application suites running on the NT server.
Thus, Barry Goffe, lead product manager for SQL server, points out that the IDC data Oracle served up in a press release to defend its claims is open to question. Oracle claimed to have increased its Windows NT relational database market share and widened its gap over Microsoft.
According to Oracle, "In addition to remaining 'the runaway leader in RDBMS license sales on Unix,' Oracle increased its database license revenue share lead over Microsoft by 5.3 percentage points, for a total share of 35.7 percent, IDC reports. During the same period, Microsoft's share declined to 30.4 percent. From 1996 to 1997, Oracle's NT database license revenue grew 30.5 percent more than Microsoft's, while its unit shipments increased by 77.8 percent, a full 21.1 percent more than Microsoft SQL Server during the same period."
First, said Goffe, those are 1997 numbers, and no one has yet published 1998 figures. Further, if you look at the 1997 numbers, Oracle does indeed have more marketshare by revenues, but not by units shipped. More importantly, said Goffe, if you look at the financial releases from both Oracle and Microsoft, you see that Microsoft's database business is growing twice as fast as Oracle's. And its NT is growing faster than all combined flavors of Unix.
As far as the claims to be first, Goffe noted that Oracle was, in fact, not the first database to be released on NT. SQL server was. And he points out its claims to be world record holders on NT for different benchmarks ring hollow. While the TPC-C is a transactions processing benchmark, the TPC-D is a data warehousing benchmark. Yes, said Goffe, Oracle does own the record on NT for the D benchmark, but that benchmark is in flux and is no longer relevant.
"As far as the C benchmark, it is true that Oracle owns the world record for performance. But there are two points to make there," said Goffe. "First, SQL server owns the record for price performance, scalability and the cost for that scalability. Microsoft dominates in 16 of 16 categories and 19 of the top 20. Second, the Oracle benchmark was run on multi-multimillion dollar experimental equipment."
Even the Sun claim is subject to dispute. In that case, Microsoft claims the market targeted by Trusted Solaris is so small as to be inconsequential. In fact, it is not even a market that generates a blip on Microsoft's radar screen.
What is important? From the standpoint of selected government customers and the channel, the issues of productivity, efficiency and effectiveness remain the high priority.
A good case in point is the work under contract for the super secret agency, National Reconnaissance Office, by a Microsoft channel partner, Integrated Data Systems of Chantilly, Va.
For Brian Malone, director of the NRO's office of contracts, the work performed by IDS is a good case study in the problems of streamlining a government agency and how to coordinate with a contractor.
NRO's role is to design, build and operate this country's reconnaissance satellites. It serves a widening list of customers, such as the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Department, warning them of potential trouble spots around the globe, helping plan military operations and monitoring the environment.
Part of the 13-member intelligence community, NRO is a defense agency staffed by personnel from the Defense Department and the CIA. It is funded through the National Reconnaissance Program, which is part of the National Foreign Intelligence Program. NRO is responsible for innovative technology, large-scale systems engineering, development and acquisition and operation of space reconnaissance systems.
The problem that IDS was asked to help solve with NT involved streamlining the NRO contracting process. According to Malone, there were numerous systems engineering contracts in a decentralized area.
"While we could sit down to discuss our needs with the technical contractors, in some cases we were seeing 20 to 25 contract documents with the same company. It amounted to 25 contracts, 25 sets of invoices, perhaps 25 sets of instructions." said Malone. "With acquisition reform a key program of the defense secretary, we needed to do something about the process. Our mantra was faster, cheaper, better."
Malone contracted with IDS to streamline these activities. The result is called FastMax, a World Wide Web solution that automates buying services from an IDIQ contract. Running on an NT server, FastMax leverages the NRO's investment in Microsoft technology by integrating Internet Explorer 4.01, Internet Information Server, Index Server and Microsoft SQL Server 6.5.
All reports are produced with the Microsoft Office suite of Word, PowerPoint and Excel. The goal was to reduce the number of contract actions within the organization and streamline the acquisition process, while enhancing competition. Currently, there are over 600 FastMax users on the NRO's global network.
With the streamlined approach, Malone was able to bring in newer companies to bid for the NRO work, not an easy thing to do in the security environment in which he works. And, for the first time, he also used the Internet to solicit bids for the IDIQ.
"The initial hit was about 125 companies. We have 180 bidding for our work," said Malone. "One of my jobs as competition advocate is to get new, small companies and offer them a fair opportunity to complete. FastMax allows us to do just that."
The FastMax system also allowed Malone's contracting officers to have access to a one-stop shop for marketing survey information. By doing keyword searches, contracting officers could not only review capabilities but also see what companies were getting the contracts in specific areas.
"The FastMax system made the contractors responsible for their own write-up, making sure the keywords were accurate and up to date. We are not going to market for them. They can come in and update their resumes and sensitive personnel information," said Malone.
Among the lessons Malone learned in setting up the FastMax systems were that 180 contractors is a lot of contractors. He said he probably overachieved in putting people in the system.
Second, while he set a date to complete the FastMax program and get it up and running, Malone now feels he should not have let the schedule serve as the driver. Also, he said that if he had waited, he could have eliminated a number of technical issues that arose later.
Lastly, it took more time than Malone thought to train the contracting officers to work with FastMax.
From the viewpoint of IDS, the Microsoft channel partner, one key lesson in setting up FastMax was realizing very few agency staff know the full value of the applications they have at their fingertips. This applies, for example, to NT server as well as SQL server.
According to Bob Coleman, IDS president and CEO, Microsoft products and suites are embedded with excellent programs that can be used to track expenses, develop a contracting system or leverage a work flow capability. All can be based on the Web using applications written in Visual Basic.
Two examples cited by Coleman cover the design of forms using Microsoft Outlook 98 and the use of PowerPoint for presenting marketing data.
In the first case, a frequently overlooked yet robust tool is available to users to create forms in the scheduling program. In the latter, Coleman and his staff wrote a VB application that quickly converted data gathered from querying the SQL server into a format for charts and graphs that could be viewed in a PowerPoint slide presentation. The use of PowerPoint was a reporting tool often used by NRO executives to convey information.
"We looked at how they brief their staffs and then wrote applications, for instance, to help them put their reports into a Word document with a cover letter. We asked ourselves, 'Why not put a Web-based front end with summary data and embedded charts?' It is the power to integrate the desktop and achieve significant productivity," said Coleman.
Coleman said few staff exploit the wealth of tools embedded in Microsoft products because most have never seen them used before. Further, many staff see the applications in one dimension, focusing on SQL for database, office for documents and NT for servers, rather than for work flow or reporting or data mining.
"That is the next level, exploiting NT and the capabilities that exist inside of NT," said Coleman. "Take the case of digital signatures and encryption inside Word using the cryto API. Or the custom forms inside Outlook 98. That was a tool we used when selling against Lotus Notes for enterprise customers who need forms routing and work flow type applications."
Given Microsoft's marketing muscle and its bevy of training classes, the company is making inroads to replace Unix on the desktop. One of the effects of what Coleman is saying about the embedded tools in NT is that the bar is being raised on the skill set necessary to work with the software.
Coleman said he is already seeing government trying to reduce the number of administration people in agencies and to consolidate areas of expertise. It is all part of what in the Defense Department is the dicta to do more with less resources. That probably translates into additional work and revenue for partners in the channel ready and willing to take on extra contract work.
Another interesting NT case study is the Type Commander's Readiness Management System, or TRMS, a data warehouse and mining tool.
It is designed for reporting and tracking Navy fleet readiness by allowing users to view and analyze status of resources and training, casualty reports, training readiness, combat information systems, supplies, personnel, schedules and organization.
The system also offers ad hoc query and report capabilities, full integration with Microsoft Office and commercial, off-the-shelf technology and the ability to add new objects, such as queries, reports, graphs and macros, from users throughout the Navy.
The problem, according to Cmdr. Mark Burgunder, who oversees the automation effort, was to develop a set of tools that portrayed accurately the level of Navy fleet readiness.
"We needed something that could capture everything. We had limited capacity to bring up data for use at the executive level," he said. "While there were monthly training and readiness reports, the tools to assess that readiness were limited in their ability to determine where we were in the process."
For example, questions that remained unanswered under the former system were how much was allocated for non-combat expenditures, and what readiness was achieved from flight hours. Further, there are 17 types of aircraft in the Navy, and each had to be completely accounted for under the new program.
"This was mass customization of a higher order," said Burgunder. "We were tasked to find a solution by Oct. 1, 1998. We charged Lt. Chris Williamson with developing and running the show and put him in touch with the fleet and users. We have been fully implemented since Feb. 1."
Part of the charge to Williamson was to produce a standard application for use throughout the fleet that demanded minimal training, so a person in the squadron with little computer background could work with it.
The feedback from the fleet when the system was first introduced was, "Do not give us another two-dimensional document." The demand was for a completely automated system that was not based on a paper model. After four meetings with fleet executives, the implementation plan was ready.
"Before, the visibility on the squadron level was limited to the [commanding officer]," said Burgunder. "That was fine. If the readiness level is at a certain point, then information is locked. There is far greater accuracy and what you see is what you get. We now have a more accurate picture of readiness levels as well as a more accurate way of knowing where to invest dollars and optimize our resources."
By migrating to a Web client-server, TRMS allowed use of advanced graphical support, including detailed image maps, color-coded readiness screens, actual photos of the ships and user friendly navigation buttons.
And by placing the work load of database searches on NT Servers, record searches and updates could be performed more efficiently and network traffic decreased significantly.
The TRMS group is now working on Release 6.0 using Microsoft's Dynamic inter-Network Architecture.DNA takes advantage of the Component Object Model, Microsoft Transaction Server, Active Server Pages and SQL Server 7 to provide additional performance and reliability for Windows NT systems.
Like all else in the world of computers where beta rules, Microsoft NT is still taking it on all sides. The most recent assault is from the company that Microsoft itself is facing head on: Novell Inc., Provo, Utah.
That company just released for beta testing updated Internet directory software at the core of its NetWare operating system.
It claims it is more powerful than competitive programs from Microsoft and can identify tens of millions of users and devices tied into the network.
According to Novell, its version 8 of Novell Directory Services can store and manage millions more users, applications, network devices and data than competing directories and earlier versions of NDS.
It also claims to eliminate the need for special-purpose Internet directories and allow companies to easily move toward electronic commerce.