Q: What did you like about this solution?

We like the availability of NT tools and moving away from a proprietary solution. NT creates a foundation that supports industry standards and a wide range of communications services, applications, development tools, database products, and systems management utilities. NT also lets us deploy state-of-the-art applications, such as Microsoft's Internet Information Server, IE 3.0, and Normandy. (Normandy is an integrated family of servers­personalization, chat, news, mail, information retrieval, membership, content replication, and merchant­that Microsoft is developing for Internet communities, and CompuServe is pioneering Normandy implementation. For information about Normandy, go to www.microsoft.com/internet/normandy. For information about the Merchant system component, see Ronald Arden, "Safe Internet Shopping with Microsoft Merchant System.")

Q: What didn't you like about this solution?

Our needs were always a step ahead of Microsoft's solutions. For example, NT's original RPC locator facility was weak. Programmers use RPCs to let their applications communicate with other modules or services running on remote servers. To reduce programming maintenance in a large, ever-changing enterprise environment, programmers must be able to direct RPC calls to a locator service rather than hard-coding them to a specific application on a specific machine. So the locator plays an important role in locating the appropriate service on the network and in facilitating communication between the programs. Microsoft's RPC locator had difficulty communicating across the different segments of CompuServe's diverse network.

Microsoft initially responded by saying that the RPC was something the company might fix in the future but that the RPC was not the highest priority. Then a Microsoft business manager helped us work out agreements that laid the ground rules for further beta testing of Microsoft's RPC locator. Microsoft agreed to release the source code to CompuServe to let us rewrite the RPC locator to solve our specific problems. As a result, CompuServe gained confidence in moving forward with NT.

Also, NT's original Domain Name System (DNS) Server didn't work, which forced us to use a UNIX-based DNS Server. We expect that NT 4.0's new DNS Server will fix this problem.

What can you recommend to your peers?

Don't underestimate the need for NT training. This applies to programmers and developers and operations personnel charged with monitoring and managing the network and its components. IS managers can save themselves many headaches by having good systems management tools in place before they put the conversion into production.