In the US this week, Microsoft will stage its Enterprise 2000 Launch, laying the final colossal bricks for the Windows 2000 foundation that it has been building to challenge high-end Unix systems.
But no matter how many impressive hardware partners, customers and benchmark performance numbers the company trots out in San Francisco, it will face a tough challenge winning over corporate users who have grown increasingly skeptical of Microsoft's reliability and scalability claims, several analysts said.
Microsoft may have a greatly improved operating system in Windows 2000 Datacentre Server, and a well-integrated family of enterprise servers and tools on which to build its .Net strategy, but analysts predicted that users won't rush to rip out their Unix boxes.
"You've got to have a compelling reason [to switch]. I could think all day and night, and I'm not sure I could come up with a good functional reason," said Randy Richardson, senior vice president of information services at The Talbots.
Talbots uses three platforms: mainframes for its high-end systems; Unix for its Oracle databases; and Windows and PeopleSoft human resource applications for its desktops, e-commerce site and PC-based customer service system. Bucking slow adoption trends, the specialty retailer has even accelerated its Windows 2000 Server rollout so it can run new Web product development management applications, and gain the benefits of the better-performing SQL Server 2000.
But when it comes to the new high-end Datacentre version of Windows 2000, Richardson said he can't envision replacing Unix systems or running the company's planned financial applications on anything but Unix.
"They're trying to make me go from three platforms to two. Perhaps at some point, two [platforms] would be less complex than three, so I think directionally they're correct," Richardson said. "But until [Windows 2000] has the reliability that I now expect out of the Unix environment, I'm not going to be open to making a full-blown commitment."
Christopher Smith, CIO at HomeLife Furniture, went live with Windows 2000 in December and said he has encountered no problems with the Server, Advanced Server and Professional versions. But Smith said he doesn't need Windows 2000 Datacentre right now, since his company uses Data General's Non-Uniform Memory Access box which can scale to 128 processors for its largest applications.
Laura DiDio, an analyst at Giga Information Group, predicted that "it's going to be a slow, hard sell" for Microsoft as it tries to "hit Unix where it lives. Microsoft is going to have to overcome the natural circumspection and aversion to change that these established Unix shops are going to feel, and the natural cynicism about anything that says Microsoft' and high-end'," she said.
Microsoft group manager Barry Goffe said his company "has no delusions of grandeur" about Unix customers ripping out their boxes.
"Most customers taking advantage of the .Net servers will be using them for new solutions," Goffe said, claiming that Microsoft has "seen the most excitement from customers building e-commerce applications." Microsoft has also gained "an enormous amount of experience through enterprise partners" running applications like enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management, he said.
One interesting piece of tomorrow's puzzle will be the electronic-business and integration story that Microsoft weaves about the .Net platform's various server packages. In addition to Windows 2000 Datacentre Server, Microsoft will discuss the integration, management and Web-enabling possibilities of its SQL Server 2000, Exchange 2000, BizTalk Server 2000, Commerce Server 2000, Application Centre 2000, Host Integration Server 2000 and Internet Security & Acceleration Server 2000.
Goffe said Microsoft's broad and deep technology platform will let customers get up and running more quickly, "as opposed to our competitors, who offer a hodgepodge of technology that requires massive amounts of service dollars to deliver anything that works."
"Not all of this is going to be shipping right away, but when you add all those together, those are a very important part of [the electronic-business and integration] story," said Tony Iams, an analyst at DH Brown Associates. "It's trying to offer an end-to-end solution, desktop to infrastructure.