Microsoft makes bid for enterprise

Launch of high-end operating system and .Net enterprise servers takes aim at Unix

Microsoft Corp. tomorrow will stage its Enterprise 2000 Launch, laying the final colossal bricks for the Windows 2000 foundation that it has been building to challenge high-end Unix systems.

But no matter how many impressive hardware partners, customers and benchmark performance numbers the company trots out in San Francisco, it will face a tough challenge winning over corporate users who have grown increasingly skeptical of Microsoft's reliability and scalability claims, several analysts said.

Microsoft may have a greatly improved operating system in Windows 2000 Datacenter Server and a well-integrated family of enterprise servers and tools on which to build its .Net strategy. But analysts predicted that users won't rush to rip out their Unix boxes.

"You've got to have a compelling reason [to switch]. I could think all day and all night, and I'm not sure I could come up with a good functional reason," said Randy Richardson, senior vice president of information services at The Talbots Inc. in Hingham, Mass.

Talbots uses three platforms: mainframes for its high-end systems, Unix for its Oracle Corp. databases and PeopleSoft Inc. human resource applications, and Windows for its desktops, e-commerce site and PC-based customer service system. Bucking slow adoption trends, the specialty retailer has even accelerated its Windows 2000 Server rollout so it can run new Web product development management applications and gain the benefits of the better-performing SQL Server 2000.

But when it comes to the new high-end Datacenter version of Windows 2000, Richardson said he can't envision replacing Unix systems or running the company's planned financial applications on anything but Unix.

"They're trying to make me go from three platforms to two. Perhaps at some point, two [platforms] would be less complex than three, so I think directionally they're correct," Richardson said. "But until [Windows 2000] is in a state that it has the reliability that I now expect out of the Unix environment, I'm just not going to be really open to making a full-blown commitment."

Christopher Smith, CIO at HomeLife Furniture Corp. in Hoffman Estates, Ill., went live with Windows 2000 in December and said he has encountered no problems with the Server, Advanced Server and Professional versions. But Smith said he doesn't need Windows 2000 Datacenter right now, since his company uses a Data General Corp. Non-Uniform Memory Access box that can scale to 128 processors for its largest applications.

Laura DiDio, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., predicted that "it's going to be a slow, hard sell" for Microsoft as it tries to "hit Unix where it lives. Microsoft is going to have to overcome the natural circumspection and aversion to change that these established Unix shops are going to feel and the natural cynicism about anything that says 'Microsoft' and 'high-end,' " she said.

No Delusions

Microsoft group manager Barry Goffe said his company "has no delusions of grandeur" that Unix customers will rip out their boxes.

"Most customers taking advantage of the .Net servers will be using them for new solutions," Goffe said, claiming that Microsoft has "seen the most excitement from customers building e-commerce applications." Microsoft has also gained "an enormous amount of experience through our enterprise partners" running applications like enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management, he said.

One interesting piece of tomorrow's puzzle will be the electronic-business and integration story that Microsoft weaves about the .Net platform's various server packages in its. In addition to Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, Microsoft will discuss the integration, management and Web-enabling possibilities of its SQL Server 2000, Exchange 2000, BizTalk Server 2000, Commerce Server 2000, Application Center 2000, Host Integration Server 2000 and Internet Security & Acceleration Server 2000.

Goffe said Microsoft's broad and deep technology platform will let customers get up and running more quickly, "as opposed to our competitors, who offer a hodgepodge of technology that requires massive amounts of service dollars to deliver anything that works."

"Not all of this is going to be shipping right away, but when you add all those together, those are a very important part of their story," said Tony Iams, an analyst at D. H. Brown Associates Inc. in Port Chester, N.Y. "They're trying to offer an end-to-end solution, desktop to infrastructure.

"Even competitors admit [that] with the tools, the application server technology and the integration tools, it's a strong story for Microsoft," Iams said. "The knockout blow in the past has been, 'What are you going to run it on?' That's why [it's important for Microsoft] to convince everyone that Windows 2000 gives you that strong foundation."

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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