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IT managers doubt prediction of Windows dominance

Analysts say Windows is going to be the dominant server platform in the data center, but IT managers aren't so sure.

CHICAGO -- Windows is going to be a dominant server platform in the data center within the next five years.

Surprised? Maybe not. Appalled? If you're a data center manager dealing with issues such as security and availability -- probably.

Windows has had so many software glitches, blips and other reliability issues, it's not uncommon for data center managers to regard Microsoft's ascendance in the data center market with trepidation, if not disdain.

But analysts at TechTarget's Data Center Futures 2003 conference last week all said Windows is working its way into the data center and emerging as the server -- for most applications.

Although there were a number of managers at the conference who said their data centers run critical apps on Windows, the data center is still predominantly run on mainframes and Unix servers.

The reality is, however, Windows is making ground in the enterprise -- like it or not.

"It's certainly the dominant platform in terms of numbers," said Jon Oltsik of Hype-Free Consulting, in Acton, Mass. "It's not unusual to have 100 Windows servers in a data center."

But beyond that, Windows is said to be making inroads into the enterprise with improvements in reliability and features.

"Windows is becoming more proficient in the data center," said Carl Claunch, an analyst with Gartner Inc., in Stamford, Conn. "It's gaining ground as it continues to prove it's a reliable system."

While the improvements are hardly innovative -- Microsoft is adding features that IBM and others have had for years, such as application recycling, memory mirroring and clustering -- analysts say the additions are helping data center managers take the Windows platform more seriously.

Claunch said that it's really all about the apps, and Microsoft is supporting all the right apps -- the ones data centers want.

Still, some data center managers, at least those running mainframe or Unix systems, aren't buying it and were a bit peeved at the analysts' assessment of what would be the future dominant server.

"Why is this ugly stepchild of a handicapped operating system still gaining market share?" asked Eugene Fleischmann, a Unix administrator with PepsiAmericas Inc., in Rolling Meadows, Ill.

Fleischmann scoffed at the analysts' opinion that Windows is improving. "Getting better is not the same as being better," he said.

He said that he has Hewlett-Packard servers that have been running heavy-duty Oracle databases 24/7 without fail.

"I doubt you'll get a Windows server to do that," he said.

Thomas Kenton doesn't doubt that Windows would rise to prominence in the data center, but he said he has his doubts about its effectiveness, particularly as it is now.

"Windows is going to be around for sure, but we're concerned about openness," said Kenton, systems and networking manager for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, in Arlington, Va. "It's not security-friendly."

Because of that, Kenton said he's looking to migrate a number of his apps currently on Windows over to Unix or AIX.

But according to Brad Day, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, Windows is about to outstrip Unix in many areas, and managers can't be putting their heads in the sand about it.

"Microsoft's momentum is strong relative to Unix and its competitors," Day said.

However, Oltsik thinks the idea that Windows will push Unix out of the way is overemphasized. "Microsoft will continue to succeed, but we don't need to get carried away as an industry hyping it," he said.

Oltsik said that, yes, the tools will improve and, yes, Microsoft will eventually run Unix out of the data center, but it will be very, very slow.

As it keeps getting better, the data center will deploy more Wintel servers, and managers will just accept the fact that it's the dominant platform.

"That's the pervasive attitude," he said. "Eventually, people will just get comfortable with Windows -- despite its instability."

But here's what really seems to be the rub for managers -- they know that Windows will be the dominant server, and there isn't much they can do about it. A number of attendees, including Fleischmann, said they believe the analysts surveyed CIOs, "not the guys who have to work with the operating system."

One user said he believes that Windows is getting play because analysts are selling it to the CEOs, who are selling it to the CIOs -- and neither of them understand the cost of Windows' shortcomings.

This story originally appeared on

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