Microsoft Battles .Net Scalability Questions

Scalability is one of the many factors that users typically consider as they weigh the pros and cons of the Java development platform vs. Microsoft Corp.'s newer .Net environment.

And even though .Net "likely will scale as high technically as the best of the J2EE [Java 2 Enterprise Edition] platforms," Microsoft will continue to face an uphill climb convincing users, according to Yefim Natis, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

"The vendors who sell J2EE have the experience and understanding of the enterprise environment, which Microsoft lacks," Natis says. "And that is what is going to slow [Microsoft] down. They will just not know how to come in the enterprise and be trusted."

"In general, IT pros are more comfortable managing large arrays and investments in Unix than they are in Windows," says Ted Schadler, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. He says that's starting to change, as Microsoft makes concerted efforts to change that perception through its Datacenter server operating system.

But many companies had to make decisions long before the more scalable technology surfaced. Bob Dutile, a senior vice president of enterprise architecture at Cleveland-based KeyCorp, says his firm has to provide enterprisewide services for more than 20,000 employees working in the U.S. and other countries, and it settled on J2EE for those applications.

"I need robust, scalable architectures," he says. "When we chose our direction, it was clear to us that J2EE had that. We were able to demonstrate that. While Microsoft has improved, we haven't had to seriously evaluate them for that level of scalability and reliability because we've chosen our direction."

"It would take a significant change" to get the financial institution to change direction, says Dutile.

In contrast, Swindon, England-based Nationwide Building Society, a customer-owned retail financial institution with 700 U.K. branch offices, already had heavy investments in Microsoft technology. So the company didn't consider using J2EE due to the "cultural upheaval" that might bring and instead was anxious to see if .Net could scale to handle a mission-critical, enterprise application, says Dave Green, a software architect at Nationwide.

One of the few early adopters to try an enterprise-scale application using .Net technology, Nationwide ported an existing mortgage application that had taken 40 man-years to build. Green says the application now runs more reliably than the original, and his firm was so pleased with the results that it decided to standardize on .Net for all corporate development.

One of the main benefits that Nationwide gained from its first .Net project was the elimination of 200,000 lines of proprietary C++ middle-tier infrastructure code in favor of 10,000 lines of Visual Basic .Net, due to the fact that the .Net framework supplied functionality that was equivalent to what the firm had built on its own, Green says.

However, Green says the .Net tools don't yet deal well with large numbers of interdependent assemblies, which are the executable files in .Net. That could be a problem for users with large projects, "because they're going to have lots of assemblies calling each other, and it's difficult to keep the versions of the assemblies consistent," he says. But, Green says, the problem wasn't overly difficult for his firm to overcome.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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