NT Server 4.0 Study Proves Costly

Wary users with the sense to do cost studies are finding that moving to Windows NT Server 4.0 will cost two to three times more than upgrading to the next level of their existing network operating systems - a point supported by several analysts' studies. As a result, many of those users are holding off on a wholesale Windows NT 4.0 migration.

Wary users with the sense to do cost studies are finding that moving to Windows NT Server 4.0 will cost two to three times more than upgrading to the next level of their existing network operating systems - a point supported by several analysts' studies.

As a result, many of those users are holding off on a wholesale Windows NT 4.0 migration.

Computerworld conducted a random sampling of 15 Fortune 1,000 businesses, analysts and systems integrators. It found that not only is the cost of an enterprisewide upgrade to Microsoft's Windows NT Server 4.0 significantly more than that of rival platforms to install and maintain, but some users got so bogged down, they elected to reinstall their legacy network operating systems.

Windows NT 4.0, has far less horsepower than rival systems and can't handle as many users on one file server.

And because NT 4.0 lacks an enterprise directory on the scale of Novell Directory Services, it requires more administrators to manage it in large enterprises.

Additionally, its clustering capabilities lag behind Novell's IntranetWare and provide only baseline fault tolerance and redundancy.

But NT 4.0 is generally considered a more robust application server. Users complain that deploying Windows NT Server 4.0 costs more than expected for several reasons, according to Evan Bauer, an analyst at Giga Information Group in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Unlike Unix or NetWare, Windows NT Server can handle only one task well, so more systems are needed to support users, Bauer said.

Worse, those servers require extra effort to manage. They lack remote control and scripting capabilities, and their instability requires rebooting once or twice per week, Bauer said, so engineers must visit every console frequently. "Management is tedious and costly," he said.

These revelations about NT 4.0 come as Microsoft launches a Windows NT 5.0 marketing campaign that claims the Active Directory will lower users' total cost of ownership by 50%. But it won't ship until the middle of next year.

"I can't sell Microsoft's promises to my boss," said Nora Miller, information systems manager at the Northwest Power Planning Council in Portland, Oregon, which uses Digitals Pathworks as its enterprise network operating system.

"A wholesale migration to NT would easily double the cost of ownership compared to our Pathworks network," Miller estimated, based on internal cost studies that measured different price/performance ratios.

Phil Easter, a technology strategist at Greyhound Lines Inc. in Dallas, said that according to his calculations, the cost of installing IntranetWare, including hardware, software and network management, would total about US$410,000 for the first year. In contrast, he said, a similar implementation of Windows NT would top out at around $900,000 because of the need to install more servers and add-on management packages.

Easter also said the annual cost of management, maintenance and salaries for a Windows NT Server network would be around $670,000. That is more than double the $275,000 price tag for comparable IntranetWare maintenance.

Easter said he based his calculations on the available volume discounts his firm would get from Novell and Microsoft and the current technical specifications for IntranetWare 4.x and Windows NT Server 4.0.

A theoretical cost study conducted by Rich Products Corp. in Buffalo, New York, gave Chief Information Officer Mike Crowley the same rude awakening four months ago.

"I was shocked to find that it was significantly more to upgrade to Windows NT. As a result, we're sticking with IntranetWare for now," Crowley said.

"Our internal cost study showed it would cost us $300,000 in hardware alone to install a 600-client Windows NT 4.0 network vs. $80,000 for IntranetWare. It just doesnt have the firepower at this point," he said.

Other users, such as Matt Rice, a senior network manager at USTrust Bank in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Tony Macaluso, director of information technology at Multicare Cos. in Hackensack, New Jersey, detailed the "hidden costs" of an all-Windows NT installation. They said Windows NT 4.0 requires more resources to achieve the same performance of rival platforms, although both have Windows NT Server installed as an applications server. Both praised its performance in that capacity. "I have 200 users attached to a single 466-MHz server running NetWare, and we have no problems. No way could I do that with NT," Rice said.

Macaluso, a longtime Banyan Systems Inc. user, said his firm deploys StreetTalk for NT, running on top of Windows NT Server as its directory. That lets him designate a single network administrator to oversee 3,000 users at 60 sites nationwide.

"If we were to use the Domain Name Service in Windows NT 4.0, we'd need at least five dedicated network administrators," he said.

Neil MacDonald, an analyst at GartnerGroup Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut, concurred. "The worst thing you could do would be to yank out every legacy server [and replace it with Windows NT]. That's a very risky move that places too much faith in NT," he said.

Not so, said Rich Tong, Microsoft's vice president of Personal Business Systems marketing. He claimed that in order to get a true figure for Windows NT 4.0 cost of ownership, businesses must compare the cost of managing a Unix system and a NetWare server in tandem.

"That's because neither operating system can perform both the functions of [network operating systems] services and application operating system services as Windows NT Server does. We found that a single Windows NT 4.0 system today provides businesses with total cost of ownership that's 25 percent less than combination NetWare/Unix shops or OS/2 Warp Server/AIX shops," Tong said. His figures are based on a recent Business Research Group survey of 500 businesses partially paid for by Microsoft.

Jeff Dazell, LAN administrator for network services at Dana Corp. in Toledo, Ohio, said, "It cost us a lot more for our Windows NT Server upgrade, but it was well worth it. We're willing to pay more for NT because we get more functionality with the Back Office Server suite.

(Computerworld senior editors Patrick Dryden and April Jacobs contributed to this story.)

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