As you start your application deployment plans for the next few years, you need to put Windows NT in perspective. As your needs change each year, so will NT, and that adaptability is a factor you have to consider.
Most of our readers are using NT in a multi-OS environment. Such an environment makes deciding on the best platform for new applications difficult. The top server operating systems that our readers use with NT are UNIX, NetWare, and OS/400.
According to IDC, NT grew 106 percent in 1996, slowing the growth of UNIX, NetWare, and OS/2. Shipments of NT Server are expected to grow another 100 percent this year. This growth will drive primary business application vendors into the NT market if they're not already there. Microsoft has a legion of technical evangelists whose mission is to make sure all key solutions in accounting, banking, finance, manufacturing, healthcare, retail, sales force automation, and others are based on NT and BackOffice. The vendors who jumped on the NT bandwagon early will make a killing this year.
Most UNIX vendors are now offering their customers NT- or UNIX-based solutions, depending on the scale of the application. In the past, people positioned NT as an ideal workgroup or departmental server, and UNIX as a midrange and enterprise-class solution. NT is getting a shot at bigger projects, moving UNIX toward the upper 10 percent to 20 percent of the market. If companies choose NT for serving applications, they are also considering NT for file and print. So if companies are adding NT to a UNIX environment for applications, NT usually replaces NetWare and OS/2 for file and print.
I originally thought we'd already be seeing Pentium Pro systems preloaded with NT Workstation (NTW) in the retail channel, but the retail channel isn't ready for NT-based systems. Software and hardware incompatibilities make supporting these systems impossible on the retail margins. Fortunately for retailers, the MMX-based Pentium chips are extending the life of the Pentium series by at least six months. The hope is that increased NTW applications and the new Windows device driver that both Windows 97 and NT share will solve the incompatibility problem--perhaps by the end of 1997 or with the introduction of NT 5.0. Until then, NT is strictly business and belongs in environments with a solid support infrastructure (i.e., a corporate IS department).
Slamming NT for lack of scalability is easy to in 1997, but lack of scalability will be a weaker argument in 1998. According to Moore's Law, processing power doubles every 18 months. This law means you can predict some interesting scalability numbers for NT. In our January issue, we measured SQL Server running on a quad-Pentium Pro server with 300 users. This benchmark represented the first time a magazine had performed a test of this magnitude. If Moore's law holds true, by the end of 1998, we will see a quad-processor NT system capable of handling 800 concurrent OLTP users. According to Gartner Group, this number is sufficient to handle 90 percent of the market needs. (Be aware though, that planning for a large system means planning for increased complexity: Scaling NT to 800 users won't be trivial, but it's possible--in other words, your job is very secure.)
Windows NT Server (NTS) will become the platform of choice for serving Network Computers (NCs). Although the NC market has grown with the efforts of Sun, IBM, and Netscape, the implementations have required serving Windows-based applications in addition to Java applications. Usually, this requirement brings a Citrix/NT-based product into the mix. NTS is required for a successful NC environment, so why not let it serve the Java-based applications, as well. In addition, NetPCs and Zero Administration Windows (ZAW) will be served only on NTS. So whether you decide to use fat clients, thin clients, or anorexic clients, NTS will be the platform of choice.
Finally, NT 5.0 will ship around May. The release will cause delight and fear for NT administrators everywhere.
New customers will buy NT because of the availability of applications, not because of the technology. NT-based solutions will win for price, features, ease of use, and performance. They just happen to run on NT. This trend could dramatically affect the AS/400 market, which IBM sells on the strength of application availability.
Technology won't stand still. Clusters of four-processor, 64-bit NT systems will be in use for some big applications. Companies will start standardizing on NT for both client and workstation. Windows 97 will be considered a legacy system. Bottom line? As you plan for the future, consider NT as it will be when you implement, not as it is today.