Every Enterprise Computing System Is Critical

As I begin my column about putting Windows NT to work in the enterprise, I want to talk about what I call the Enterprise Attitude. It's an important idea that will be the foundation for future columns and understanding it will help you be successful--both in applying the information that you get here and in any enterprise-computing project.

What's the Enterprise Attitude?
Let's start with a definition. My working definition for Enterprise Computing System (ECS) is any combination of computing software and hardware upon which a business depends.

For example, an organization with only a single machine that does billing must consider that single machine to be an ECS. The logic is simple: If this single machine goes down, so does the business.

You might argue that this definition makes distinguishing between the small accounting system and the 100,000-node network impossible. That's exactly what I'm getting at. When the computing resources are mission-critical to that company, they comprise an ECS. In other words, whatever the Enterprise Attitude is, it must apply to every business computer installation.

Let's look at an example to see what can happen if you ignore this idea--even if you have a large organization. A Midwestern insurance company's core applications (policy billing and record keeping) ran on a pair of midrange boxes. The company's MIS people were quite proud of this setup because all around them organizations were downsizing and experiencing a variety of problems, mostly from badly designed and implemented systems. The MIS people bragged that their core applications--their mission-critical ECS--were safe on a solid, proven platform.

Also in this organization was a PC LAN that used Novell servers. This LAN ran on an incorrectly installed cable plant and wasn't protected by the normal data-integrity measures of high-quality backup and power protection that any ECS requires. The LAN was used for such things as word processing and spreadsheets and was ignored because the core applications were safe on the ECS.

One day, the "non-critical" LAN crashed--hard--and took three days to recover! During the recovery time, most of the employees couldn't do their jobs. The midrange systems continued to crank out the invoices, but the people who supported the customers didn't have access to the data that they used every day to do their job. The bottom line was that the company had downsized without paying attention; the ECS now included this poorly implemented LAN system. The crash created a rude awakening for MIS.

Not everything in enterprise computing scales from the bottom to the top. For example, the economy of scale that comes from a 1000-node network means that some components that allow automation (e.g., network management systems) are affordable. Furthermore, those components are mandatory in these larger networks. In a 10-node network, some things are too expensive, and you must use manual methods. However, you must meet the same goals for both installations, regardless of the compromises that each imposes.

Because every ECS is critical to the organization it serves, how do you ensure proper handling of the system? The Enterprise Attitude is simply:

  • It is my job to provide a mission-critical system to my organization, and I will approach it with the professionalism my organization demands.
  • I will start with a plan, evaluate all reasonable alternatives, and demand the resources--both time and money--that I need to complete the project successfully.
  • I will always remember that balancing the needs of my department, the end user, and the entire organization is necessary to guarantee the maximum return on the ECS investment.

Can NT Do It?
As an industry, we have come to expect that desktop computing is capable of handling certain kinds of tasks. We no longer have serious questions about its value. At this time in computing history, designing a new ECS that does not incorporate desktop computing is difficult to imagine. On the other hand, many of us still question ECS's ability to function as the core of a mission-critical system, particularly in the online transaction processing (OLTP) and large database arenas. If you are implementing a system of this sort--something really big, mission-critical, and real-time--is using NT consistent with the Enterprise Attitude? Yes.

When I first started in the enterprise LAN business, Novell NetWare was the only option that we could take seriously. NetWare version 2.x had severe limitations and bugs, but Novell people worked hard and continuously improved their product. Today's NetWare is an excellent product.

However, in industries such as managed health care and financial markets, where OLTP is the life's blood, NetWare isn't the core application platform. (Don't misunderstand, NetWare is used in these organizations and is doing an excellent job in a mission-critical role--as a file-and-print-services platform. You will find some examples of OLTP and database applications running under NetWare, but not often.) Even with NetWare so widely implemented--it has millions of network nodes--providers of serious client/server computing systems haven't adopted it. These industries and others like them depend on midrange and mainframe applications that have been developed specifically for them. The application providers in these industries are now moving to NT instead of NetWare.

Designed for a Purpose
NetWare is a fast network operating system (NOS) and is exceptional at providing file-and-print services to desktop clients. From its inception, NetWare's developers moved in this direction. The original idea was reflected in Novell's implementation strategy: the redirector. The NetWare redirector was designed to intercept and redirect system calls for disk access. To its designers, a NetWare server was a big hard disk off in the distance. NetWare has always done an excellent job of offering access to file-system resources for desktop clients.

Later, Novell decided that client/server computing was also important, and the company set out to include this capability in NetWare. Novell tried various ways of running programs on the server. However, no matter what the company tried, the end result was, by definition, just an addition to a file-and-print-services system.

On the other hand, Microsoft's NOS offering, LAN Manager, never did well at all. Its market share was so small it was practically nonexistent. When the time came for a client/server platform, there was no legacy system to preserve. Yes, NT is LAN Manager-compatible, but that's at the Server Message Block (SMB) protocol level, not at the binary level.

When designing NT, the people at Microsoft adopted the Enterprise Attitude. They set out to create a platform capable of excellent print-and-file services, while including a genuine and serious client/server capability. They carefully used the knowledge of designers of previous enterprise operating systems to create the NT available today. This system offers the capabilities of a modern multithreading operating system with genuine scalability.

When large-enterprise, vertical-market application developers looked at NT, they saw something that they have never seen in NetWare: an operating system like the midrange and mainframe operating systems they already used, not a file server that could be made to run programs. The proof that NT is different lies in the fact that these developers are adopting it. Vendors who traditionally provide tools to the "big iron" world are moving these tools to NT. Many-thousand-node systems in production use are based on Alpha servers running NT, and others are in the implementation stage. This move is a vote of great confidence in NT. You don't bet your billion-dollar business on something new unless you have a great deal of faith in it.

Windows NT and the products that run under it are the future of enterprise computing. Now is the time to realize the vision of distributed computing, and NT is the tool to do it.

Serious Business
If you get the impression that I think enterprise computing is serious business, you're right. I also think it's a lot of fun. Exploring new technologies and solving technical problems can be rewarding. That's the kind of thing that I'll be doing in this column.

If you have some enterprise advice or a solution that you find particularly interesting, let me know. I'd like to pass it along to other readers. Until next month, keep up your Enterprise Attitude.

Contact Info
Microsoft * 206-882-8080
Novell * 800-453-1267