Windows NT proves to be more costly

Unix-based shops that think they will save money with a move to Windows NT are getting a rude awakening. Although NT systems may have a lower entry price compared with Unix servers, much of that gap has narrowed by the time users have finished configuring enough processors, memory and storage to get Unix-like performance from their NT systems. In fact, when combined with administrative and maintenance costs, NT systems may end up costing more to own than Unix systems, users and analysts say.

Unix-based shops that think they will save money with a move to Windows NT are getting a rude awakening.

Although NT systems may have a lower entry price compared with Unix servers, much of that gap has narrowed by the time users have finished configuring enough processors, memory and storage to get Unix-like performance from their NT systems. In fact, when combined with administrative and maintenance costs, NT systems may end up costing more to own than Unix systems, users and analysts say.

“There is a misperception that just because NT is a shrink-wrapped product, it is somehow cheaper” than Unix, says Tom Yager, a network operating system team lead at Sprint Paranet in Dallas.

Greyhound Lines, also in Dallas, recently analysed the cost/performance ratio between the two operating environments and discovered it costs about $US900,000 to set up a 2,000-user Windows NT environment compared with $1 million for a Unix setup. “But the initial capital expenditure doesn’t begin to tell the whole story,” says Phil Easter, a technology strategist at Greyhound.

For ongoing maintenance, support and losses associated with network downtime, Unix is almost “30% cheaper” than NT, Easter says. NT support costs work out to about $750,000 annually compared with only $540,000 for Unix. And whereas an NT setup needs10 network managers, a Unix environment needed just six, he says.

As part of a massive enterprise resource planning rollout, Howmedica a subsidiary of Pfizer in Rutherford, New Jersey, evaluated its Windows NT systems last year before it decided to go with Unix systems from Sun Microsystems. The decision was made largely because Unix systems were more scalable, says Stuart Davie, Howmedica’s vice president of information technology.

“Early indications were that NT would be a lot cheaper ... but in the end, the difference wasn’t significant” in terms of overall cost, Davie says.

Much of the hardware cost comes from constantly having to add more processors or throw more servers to handle application scalability issues, Yager says. For example, the company he worked at before joining Sprint tried to host an intranet application for about 1,500 users on a dual-processor, 300MHz Pentium server. Less than a month later, the company had to substitute a four-processor system with almost four times the memory and with features such as Ultra SCSI drives to handle the workload, Yager says.

Another significant cost in some environments is the need to have redundant Windows NT systems backing each other up to ensure high-application availability, says a systems analyst at a utility company in Washington, who requested anonymity. Unix systems don’t crash as often, so fewer backup systems are needed, he says.

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