Get the best performance from your systems and applications

When you install Windows NT Workstation, NT Server, or any of the BackOffice suite of NT infrastructure applications, you don't experience optimum performance out of the box. You must twiddle and tweak your system and application settings to achieve good performance, and if you don't look for areas to optimize, you won't get the best possible performance from your NT systems and applications.

This need to optimize your software won't surprise you if you're familiar with any Microsoft operating system (OS). DOS, Windows, Windows 95, NT, and now Windows 98 all suffer from the fact that Microsoft wrote them to run on virtually any PC. This attempt at universality means the OSs must accommodate a mind-boggling array of adapters, disk drivers, and assorted peripherals. As a result, they can't obtain optimum out-of-the-box performance­optimum performance requires hardware-specific fine tuning.

If you've used MVS, OS/400, AIX, SunOS, HP-UX, VMS, or Digital UNIX, you're used to a different, hardware-dependent OS model. In this model, the OS developers can make a lot of assumptions about the underlying hardware. In fact, they can tune the OS to the hardware.

Unfortunately, NT's disconnection from the hardware is the source of many problems. Many of NT's scalability challenges result from this hardware and software disconnect. For example, how can NT run optimally on an 8-way system when each vendor uses a different hardware design for its 8-way system? This disconnection plays a significant role in NT's lack of stability, because the OS embraces all kinds of strange devices and drivers at the kernel level.

These problems are pretty serious­especially the stability issue. But at the same time, the payoff for living with these problems is huge: You get tremendous freedom of choice when selecting the hardware components for your server and workstation systems. No other OS offers such a variety of hardware platforms and hardware configurations. (You can argue that Linux comes close, but Linux doesn't support as many adapters and add-on devices as NT.)

Not only can you choose your hardware platform, you can easily change it: You can add to or remove hardware components from any NT system or network. More important, you can take advantage of new technology as it comes to market. Finally, you can control your costs. For example, you can implement minimum system requirements today and upgrade or add systems later. You can ride that low-flying cost curve of PC components.

For some applications and enterprise environments, NT's payoff isn't enough. This factor helps explain why plenty of UNIX, midrange, and mainframe systems are still around. Let's face it, some applications have reliability or performance requirements that NT can't provide. NT professionals shouldn't be shamed by that revelation.

Despite this factor, NT is clearly a great OS for many business-critical applications, and the BackOffice suite of infrastructure applications provides a strong framework for building business solutions. Those of us who work in this environment owe it to ourselves and our organizations to learn NT optimization tricks.

This month, Windows NT Magazine delivers articles that discuss specific optimization topics to help you soup up NT and the BackOffice suite. Our intent is to help you make NT successful in your business. If you can optimize NT for better performance in your environment, everyone wins.