Windows NT Server, Enterprise Edition (NTS/E) 4.0 is shipping. Among its new capabilities, this version improves on the scalability and availability of the regular version of NT Server. But do we really need another version of NT Server to meet enterprise needs?

First, NTS/E supports up to 8 CPUs in one Intel-based machine. Vendors such as Axil Computer, Digital Equipment, NCR, Advanced Logic Research, and Unisys have already committed to delivering 6-way and 8-way symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) servers for NTS/E. In the past, hardware vendors had to create a special version of NT's hardware abstraction layer (HAL) for servers with more than 4 CPUs. Today, vendors can preload NTS/E and eliminate their proprietary HAL. This capability is a good thing.

So far, the only application that will take advantage of this additional scalability is SQL Server Enterprise Edition (SQL/E) 6.5. But will SQL/E really scale beyond 4 processors? Forgive me for being skeptical, but Microsoft told us SQL Server 6.5 scaled beyond 4 CPUs. However, in the Windows NT Magazine Lab's testing on an 8-way Pentium system, we found that the regular version of SQL Server 6.5 scaled to only 4 CPUs. So until we test SQL/E on an 8-way SMP system in our lab, I remain hopeful and skeptical. If SQL/E does scale, NTS/E and SQL will push UNIX servers even farther up into the enterprise, leaving 90 percent of the application server market to NT.

RAM Tuning
Next, NTS/E adds a RAM tuning feature called 4GB RAM Tuning (4GT). It increases the potential RAM allocated to applications from 2GB to 3GB, by reducing the RAM allocated to the NT kernel from 2GB to 1GB. This feature will work only on Intel 32-bit processors. So why isn't it available in the regular version of NT Server? Wouldn't a 4-way system benefit from 4GT? This feature belongs in the standard version of NT Server.

NTS/E introduces Microsoft Cluster Server (MCS­formerly, Wolfpack). Because NTS/E lets you connect two NT Servers in a cluster, it can automatically recover from server or application failures (for details, see Joel Sloss, "Wolfpack Beta 2," June 1997). Adding cluster support can significantly increase the availability of NT Server, which is important when it's running business critical applications.

For the majority of users, the interest in NTS/E will be MCS. To use this capability, you'll need to choose an entire cluster configuration from the MCS Hardware Compatibility List (HCL). The configuration will include two nodes and a SCSI-switched disk array. You must add two copies of NTS/E at $4000 per server (including MCS) to get a minimum configuration. So, Microsoft's formula for expanding the NT universe into the enterprise is that you must purchase two copies of MCS to make it work. Or to put it more simply, E=MCS2.

What's wrong with this Wolfpackaging formula for getting clustering out of NTS/E? First, Microsoft bases its successful business model on low price and high volume. This model creates large market share and encourages software vendors to develop on Microsoft platforms. Compared with other Microsoft products, NTS/E is a low-volume, high-priced solution that will discourage software vendors from creating cluster-aware applications. Why spend significant development effort on a small market?

Who says clustering needs to be an enterprise-only solution? Microsoft's biggest opportunity is to take clusters beyond their traditional enterprise role as high-end database servers and move clustering into departmental servers, where NT is playing a huge role. If priced right, clusters could become a standard part of business-critical servers for such applications as messaging, groupware, Web serving, and file and print.

In fact, I think Microsoft should include MCS with the standard version of NT Server. "Crazy!" you say? Read on.

MCS is part of an overall availability suite that includes Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS) and Microsoft Message Queue Server (MSMQ). MTS and MSMQ let developers use transactions and messages to create highly available applications. Originally, MTS's US price was $1500 per server. At that price: no market, no applications. Now, MTS and MSMQ will ship with every version of NT Server 5.0, creating a huge market opportunity for NT developers. At that price: huge market, lots of applications. With MCS, MTS, and MSMQ, Microsoft could claim that NTS is the most highly available operating system in the world. Microsoft could completely own availability in the market.

Do we need an NT enterprise version? NTS/E makes sense for systems with more than 4 CPUs, but Microsoft needs to include other NTS/E features in the standard version of NTS. We all want reliability, availability, and manageability. It's a shame if packaging gets in the way.