Microsoft Readies Win2K Datacenter for Defeaturing

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Microsoft Readies Win2K Datacenter for Defeaturing
R. Krause - June 20, 2000

Event Summary

Microsoft company officials are now saying that delivery schedule on Windows 2000 Datacenter Server is slipping, with the original commitment of "within 120 days" of Windows 2000 Professional (2/17/2000) now looking more like a month or more beyond that. In addition to this delay, Microsoft officials have commented that Datacenter is not presently scaling up as well as expected. The OS version is promised to scale up to 32 processors, but is presently only handling eight well, with 16 processors still being tested.

"It's scaling pretty well to eight CPUs, and we're starting to see good results on 16," said Michel Gambier, group product manager for enterprise servers. "We may not have 32 [processor support] done" by the ship date. But Gambier says he's confident Microsoft will be able to offer 32-way support when the system becomes generally available in September.

Microsoft had indicated that Datacenter would be released to manufacturing in March or April, with availability in May or June. Under current conditions, release to manufacturing will not allow an earlier than August delivery.

Market Impact

The Datacenter (Win2K/DC) version of Windows 2000 has long been thought of as Microsoft's big chance to break Unix's grip on the high-end enterprise market segment - it has been called Microsoft's "Unix-killer" by some. We do not believe it will "kill" Unix, but we expect Datacenter will have a relatively strong negative effect on Unix sales. Unix (except for Linux) has been losing market share to Windows-based OSes for some time now, Datacenter should accelerate that trend. The features - on paper - indicate that it will be a serious contender, even without the built-in market share of Windows.

Assuming Microsoft actually gets the 32-CPU version really working (as opposed to just saying it works, but planning for it to be fixed in Service Pack 1 or 2), we expect this will suppress demand slightly for Datacenter. The greater effect will mainly be delay of demand, until such time as MS can get it right. It is likely that Microsoft will go through at least one more "Release Candidate" cycle before shipping the code to manufacturing. Redmond's current "best guess" of general availability for Win2K/DC is September (of this year), but we believe full 32-processor support will lag that by a couple of months. Some have gone so far as to suggest that if the manufacturing release of the full-blown version is delayed until October or November, that the theme song change from "Start Me Up" to "Also Sprach Zarathustra".

Of current concern is the scaling factor from 16 to 32 processors. Expected performance improvement is 50%, but some vendors are experiencing as little gain as 30%, and as much as 90+%. Significant performance boosts are key to customers accepting the OS for larger configurations.

Microsoft is touting the reliability of Win2K/DC, but their "official" testing only requires uptime of 99.9% in a 14-day test. Microsoft calls this an "extended period"; we question the validity of referring to two-week uptime - not even 100% - as "extended". As a point of reference, 99.9% uptime means a system is down for unscheduled maintenance about nine hours per year - pretty good, certainly much better than in the past, but still needs work. In addition, it is not clear that the results from a 14-day test even using HALT/HASS are scalable out to a year.

We do not presently believe Linux will use this particular delay to make greater inroads into Windows' market share, because there is still no "flagship" clustering/multiprocessor product. (The "Beowulf" clustering solution is reasonably well known within the Linux world, but it's not yet a "Datacenter killer".)

Note the wording "this particular delay": we believe Linux will generally continue its growth curve, closing the market share gap between it and Windows NT/2000.

HALT = Highly Accelerated Life Testing
HASS = Highly Accelerated Stress Screening

User Recommendations

For now, customers wanting more than eight processors (increasing to 16 - Microsoft hopes - when Datacenter is released) generally need to choose a Unix-based system, such as those manufactured by Sun, HP, IBM, or Compaq. The Intel-based alternative is the NUMA-Q E410 from IBM, which will house up to 64 processors. (Ref TEC: NA IBM's Newest NUMA-Q Server to Handle 64 Intel CPUs)

For Windows-only customers, Datacenter promises to be a more reliable and robust OS - if not at first shipment, certainly by Service Pack 1 or 2 (SP1, SP2). As with most Windows releases, we suggest that customers consider waiting until at least SP1 before a complete changeover. The recent announcement of the first Win2K Service Pack (or are they calling it "Service Release") indicates that caution is often a good idea.

Unix-centric shops will know that Win2K generally costs less than a comparable (non-Linux) Unix system, but should review all aspects of their operations before making a switch.

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