While Windows NT is an economical e-commerce platform for small to medium-sized businesses, it may not be the best choice for large-scale deployments, according to analysts at Mainspring, an e-commerce consultancy in Cambridge, Mass. We asked Mainspring about its experience in helping clients design e-business strategies.
Searchwin2000: What percentage of your clients are using the Windows platform for e-commerce? What other platforms are they using?
Mainspring: While we have not done any systematic audits of the platforms our clients are using, it is clear that the prevailing belief among IT professionals, right or wrong, is that the Microsoft platform is not the most suitable for large enterprise-class e-commerce solutions. The knocks against NT include the limitations in the number of processors it supports, the COM-based architecture of most of the core software products, and the relative instability of NT versus, for example, Solaris. The belief is that these limitations relegate the Microsoft family of eCommerce products to smaller enterprises, to departmental applications, and to situations where cost constraints might preclude the selection of higher-end solutions.
In general, Solaris is the operating system of choice for enterprise-class e-commerce applications. Virtually all the major application servers and packages run on Solaris and there is widespread acceptance of the Sun platform as robust, scalable and proven. Linux is clearly an emerging technology with a great deal of potential, but not one that has been widely adopted for the most robust systems. In addition, AIX running WebSphere and UDB as the application server and database, respectively, is growing in popularity. This platform is particularly attractive for organizations with IBM mainframe connectivity issues and the need for high transaction volumes.
Searchwin2000: You've said that Fortune 1000 companies need to move an e-commerce initiative forward on several fronts. How does NT handle the security, flexibility and high hit rates of a transaction-oriented e-business?
Mainspring: The reality is that at present, NT is not as scalable or as reliable as many of its Unix-based rivals. Clustering solutions can alleviate some of the scalability issues, but this generation of NT just does not measure up to Solaris and AIX for large sites. In addition, Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS) does not have the track record of BEA's Tuxedo product or IBM's TX Series, when it comes to robust distributed transaction management. Further, the COM-based architecture of the Microsoft products may hinder integration with other non-Microsoft types of technology, which tend to be less proprietary and based on open-standards technologies like CORBA and Java.
On the other hand, NT and its sister technologies (MTS, SiteServer) are significantly less expensive from a software perspective, and in general, from a hardware perspective as well. MTS running on NT is a platform that is capable of supporting complex small and medium-sized transactional sites at a very reasonable price point. In addition, the integration of OS and application technologies, combined with some sophisticated application development tools, can facilitate some truly rapid application development.
Laura B. Smith is a contributing editor based in Swampscott, Mass.