An Interview with Derek Archer, Vice President and Chief Technologist

Derek Archer, Vice President and Chief Technologist The Charles Schwab Corporation is a well-known investment company with a history dating back to 1971. Charles R. Schwab is founder of this corporation and still serves as chairman of the board and CEO.

In 1995, the company serviced customer assets of $181.7 billion, representing a compounded annual growth rate of 43% since 1990. With 226 branch offices nationwide (growing at a compounded annual rate of 12% since 1990) and an annual net income of $1,419.9 million (growing at a compounded annual rate of 30% since 1990), this dynamic company places a high priority on enterprise technology that will support and encourage growth while maintaining efficiency and facilitating extensive customer services. Not surprisingly, Schwab's enterprise technology solutions include Window NT.

Recently, Windows NT Magazine's editorial director, Mark Smith, had the opportunity to talk with Derek Archer, the Schwab Corporation's vice president and chief technologist. From his San Francisco office, Archer explained Schwab's decision to implement a Windows NT Workstation distributed computing system. Here are some highlights of that conversation.

Q: What was going on at Charles Schwab before you began considering Windows NT Workstation?

We were implementing a project to provide additional functionality on the desktop. Two technologies, Distributed Computing Environment (DCE) and Distributed Management Environment (DME), intrigued us at the time as \[potential\] solutions for the distributed environment. Even though DCE was an immature technology, we went ahead with it.

We looked into putting Sun workstations on the desktop. After implementing about 1000 workstations, we realized that it was almost impossible to integrate the 17 or 18 pieces of software necessary for each desktop. The products we were providing didn't meet our end users' expectations, so we had to look for other solutions.

Q: Why did Charles Schwab consider NT Workstation?

In late 1994, we evaluated NT Workstation. We found that it met our business goals. We also found that it was scalable and could be centrally managed. Microsoft and Hummingbird were able to provide the integration we needed with our UNIX servers.

Q: Did you consider using Windows 95?

We didn't consider Windows 95 for our trading workstations. However, we chose Windows 95 for our executives because of the interface. We'll probably go with Windows NT 4.0 for the executives when it's available.

Q: What does your application do?

Our customers can call any of our cost centers and talk to a broker to obtain quotes, perform trades, and \[access\] other services. Information is constantly being fed to the UNIX servers to allow for quotes to be made in real time.

Q: How did you implement the system?

After a successful pilot project, we started the implementation in September 1994, and finished in February 1996. We replaced about 1000 Sun workstations and 5000 dumb terminals. We are currently using Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) for software distribution and Tivoli Console for systems management. IBM provided most of the client hardware and supports all of the workstations. A lot of things went well. Microsoft Consulting was good and tried very hard to make everything work together. Training was good, too.

Q: Did you consider using Windows NT Server for application services?

We don't think that Microsoft really delivers the mission-critical services that we get from our Sun or IBM RS/6000 servers. The RS/6000 with CICS is an extremely strong platform. However, we want to be in a position to take advantage of whatever the strongest platform is in the future, including NT Server.

Q: What are the hardware characteristics of your network?

The clients \[see sidebar, left\] are NT Workstations connected to Compaq servers running NT Server for file and print services. Each client is connected to a UNIX server and to a Hitachi Skyline (six-way) mainframe.

Q: What were some of the implementation problems you experienced?

One of the major problems is integration. Microsoft expects other people to integrate with them. They do not provide the kind of support that large companies need to integrate multiple platforms.

SMS has been the biggest disappointment. For example, when you distribute software, there is no guarantee that the client received the change or implemented it, or that what they received was the whole content. SMS also has no way to back out of changes.

In addition, we ended up having to reboot the workstation when implementing software changes. We know they're trying to fix it in the next version, but \[that change\] will only fix NT Workstations, not our non-Microsoft systems. We would like a system that handles all of our needs, so that our systems administrators only have one system to learn. We are currently evaluating other products, Courier, in particular.

There are still a couple of things missing from NT, such as a global directory service (GDS). We need Microsoft to help us move that along. The other thing is security. We would like a single logon throughout the entire enterprise, including UNIX and the mainframe. We have to use Tivoli, which provides this, but we wish Microsoft would provide this security. We also don't believe NT's built-in security is strong enough when you open it up to an Intranet or the Internet.

Finally, we still have problems with printing on the mainframe. We believe the problem is with Attachmate's TN3270 client software.

Q: How do you summarize your implementation experience?

Overall, it has been a good success. It's hard to quantify the improvements, but the users are delighted with the functionality. We have given them the tools to do their jobs today and have provided a platform to add additional applications.

We are in the process of adding contact management and are investigating Exchange, Internet, and other productivity applications.

Q: What advice can you give other managers who are considering a large-scale NT implementation?

Determine the kind of infrastructure you'll need to provide the level of support you require. Choose your hardware well. Plan your hardware/software integration well. I recommend using Microsoft's consulting services. You'll need to overcome integration issues.

Contact Info
Charles Schwab * 800-435-4000
Attachmate * 800-426-6283
Compaq * 800-386-2172
Hummingbird * 416-496-2200
IBM * 800-426-7255
Microsoft * 206-882-8080
Open Connect * 800-551-5881
Reuters * 212-603-3587
Sun Microsystems * 800-786-2441