Since the start of Windows NT Magazine in September 1995, its tag line has been "Solutions for the Next Wave of Enterprise Computing." In 1995, that statement was ahead of its time. IS professionals were skeptical that Windows NT would solve many problems at the enterprise level. Today, innovative NT-based solutions are making a significant contribution in many enterprises. This issue profiles some of those solutions and recognizes those enterprises as NT Innovators. In addition, our columnists honor products that significantly influenced the industry in 1997, and predict which products will be influential in 1998. Let me give you my pick for 1997 and my prediction for 1998.

SAP
My pick for 1997 is SAP/NT. SAP's influence has been in bringing NT into the enterprise. In fact, when a skeptic says NT can't handle the enterprise, someone usually says, "SAP ships almost half its systems on NT." That statement usually ends the argument.

For the past 2 years, suppliers have lined up behind SAP's NT support, adding momentum to NT's move into the enterprise. Large-scale NT-solution vendors respect SAP's technology so much that Microsoft, Oracle, and Informix benchmark their success in the enterprise by measuring SAP installs and performance. HP, Compaq, Digital, IBM, and others regularly use the SAP R/3 Sales and Distribution benchmark to measure their hardware's performance.

Like many SAP customers, Microsoft is using SAP products to reengineer much of its internal operations. SAP may even help Microsoft make good on an old promise. I remember hearing Microsoft say it would use NT to replace its 14 IBM AS/400s by the end of 1995. Well, it's 1998, and the AS/400s are still handling Microsoft's business-critical operations. Microsoft's current strategy is to replace the AS/400s with the combination of SAP products, NT, and SQL Server.

Oracle on NT
For 1997 and 1998, influential products in bringing NT into the enterprise come from Oracle. Of all Microsoft's competitors, Oracle is the one that has Microsoft's attention. First, Oracle is the number one multiplatform database vendor. Oracle's share of the NT database market equals Microsoft's share with SQL Server, and in some countries, Oracle even surpasses Microsoft in NT database market share. For example, of the 3200 installations of SAP on NT, 70 percent are on Oracle, compared to 20 percent on SQL Server.

Oracle is influencing the NT market by bringing all of its third-party, business-critical applications to NT. Oracle's presence in the NT market is fueling an application development race with Microsoft. Every day, Microsoft people motivate themselves by visiting Oracle's NT application listing (http://ntsolutions.oracle.com/index.htm) to see whether the number of applications is growing faster than the number on Microsoft's list (http://www.microsoft.com/industry).

Microsoft will compete with Oracle by bundling SQL Server with other products, including Internet Information Server (IIS) products, Small Business Server (SBS), Systems Management Server (SMS), and CA-Unicenter TNG. Although having SQL Server in these key areas is important, the number of business applications that run on SQL Server or Oracle will determine the final outcome of the database battle. Why? Within two years, people will be buying NT primarily for application solutions rather than the technology.

The main stumbling block for Oracle is that it competes with some of its partners. If you're a software vendor with a solution that competes with Oracle Financials, you may want to partner with Microsoft and SQL Server. Line-of-business applications are about the only area that Microsoft has chosen not to compete in, so in this area, you reduce your chances of being crushed by your development partner.

Oracle has the opportunity to seriously upstage Microsoft SQL Server in the areas of scalability and availability. Oracle claims to have built an NT database that scales up to eight CPUs and that their Parallel Server provides scalability and availability in a four-cluster configuration. In addition, Oracle plans to be first in supporting 64-bit NT. If these products live up to Oracle's claims in 1998, Oracle can grab and hold a sizeable lead in the race for the NT database market. The longer Oracle waits, the more opportunity Microsoft has to play catch-up with Sphinx, SQL Server 7.0.