Current information week discusses the next billion that Bill Gates
wants: a billion transactions a day.
> Once again, Microsoft has big plans: to create Windows NT systems that
> support 10,000 concurrent users, 1 billion transactions a day, and 1
> terabyte of data. Can Microsoft pull it off?
So in addition to fighting war fronts on the desktop, servers, the Web,
the distributed objects community, languages, applications, and systems,
Microsoft is now looking to corner the database market, too? Wow.
> Improving Windows NT's scalability has become a pet project of Microsoft
> chairman and CEO Bill Gates, who describes a future in which Web traffic
> and electronic- commerce applications dramatically increase the number
> of transactions and the amount of data companies must handle.
So, all of these war fronts are but parts of the same war.
> Hardware advances will get Windows-based PC servers part of the way
> there, but the rest will depend on improvements to Microsoft's
> operating system, database, and middleware-including its Wolfpack
> clustering software.
Man, if you own all the parts, then you own the whole.
> "I have been chided to keep my mouth shut until we have it in the
> bag," says Jim Gray, database guru and senior researcher in
> Microsoft's Bay Area Research Center in San Francisco.
But only BillG is allowed to say so.
> Microsoft's long-term strategy is to show that hundreds of PC servers
> can be clustered into a massively parallel system using Microsoft
And as long as it runs Microsoft software, they're happy.
> the momentum of Windows NT will pull SQL Server along, displacing
> Informix, Sybase, and Computer Associates and leaving Oracle,
> Microsoft, and IBM to battle it out for market leadership.
Which is why Oracle's been so nervous lately...
> Partners are lining up to help increase that bang. Digital Equipment
> this quarter will introduce versions of its AlphaServer 8000 systems,
> with up to a dozen 64-bit processors each, running Windows NT and SQL
> Meanwhile, Microsoft developers have set their sights even higher. A
> Microsoft white paper describes 16-node clusters capable of supporting
> up to 20,000 concurrent users and 10 terabytes of data.
Microsoft has an ambitious plan for the database and middleware market: to
create Windows NT systems that support 1 billion transactions a day
By John Foley and Stuart J. Johnston
Issue date: April 7, 1997
Microsoft has a thing about big numbers. Its Windows operating system
runs on tens of millions of PCs, the company likes to point out, and
shipments of Windows NT servers this year will exceed 1 million. Now,
the $10 billion software vendor is focusing on the $10 billion database
and middleware market, where it has been a minor player.
Once again, Microsoft has big plans: to create Windows NT systems that
support 10,000 concurrent users, 1 billion transactions a day, and 1
terabyte of data. Can Microsoft pull it off?
The company's plan includes a more scalable release of SQL Server,
integration of transaction-management and message-queuing software with
the database, and the support of hardware vendors that offer powerful
multiprocessing systems. Some analysts say such aggressive moves will
help Microsoft become one of the top three players in the database
But even for a company as aggressive as Microsoft, such a lofty goal may
not come easily. "They aren't a very capable enterprise supplier today,"
says Evan Bauer, an analyst with Giga Information Group in Cambridge,
Mass. "Microsoft's just catching up to where other database suppliers
were in 1995."
The thresholds at which Microsoft is aiming are well beyond the current
requirements of most companies-and beyond the capabilities of many
high-end systems. A terabyte is a 200-byte record for almost every
person on earth, and 1 billion transactions is more trades than the New
York Stock Exchange handles in a day. But analysts and competitors
speculate that, given its vast resources, Microsoft will eventually
reach its goals.
Improving Windows NT's scalability has become a pet project of Microsoft
chairman and CEO Bill Gates, who describes a future in which Web traffic
and electronic- commerce applications dramatically increase the number
of transactions and the amount of data companies must handle. Hardware
advances will get Windows-based PC servers part of the way there, but
the rest will depend on improvements to Microsoft's operating system,
database, and middleware-including its Wolfpack clustering software.
Microsoft is working feverishly on all those fronts but still has a long
way to go. Its SQL Server 6.5 database management system tops out at
8,000 transactions per minute on a four-processor Pentium Pro server; 1
billion transactions a day requires nearly 100 times that performance.
The top TPC-C benchmark to date, 30,000 transactions per minute, was
achieved by Oracle on a four-node, 32-processor cluster of Digital Alpha
Gates is publicly confident that Microsoft programmers can reach his
goal. "For most of the things we're doing, it's all a question of when,
not if," he said at a recent conference. In an interview last November,
Gates said Microsoft would demonstrate support for 1 billion
transactions a day early this year (IW, Nov. 11, p. 14). His
subordinates, however, are noncommittal. "I have been chided to keep my
mouth shut until we have it in the bag," says Jim Gray, database guru
and senior researcher in Microsoft's Bay Area Research Center in San
At a scalability demonstration in New York next month, Microsoft and
about a dozen hardware partners will demonstrate state-of-the-art NT
systems (IW, March 24, p. 16). They'll likely show off highly scalable
systems that include an early version of Windows NT 5.0; Wolfpack
phase-one two-node clustering software; a SQL Server upgrade called
Sphinx; the recently released Transaction Server (see story, p. 83); and
a test version of message-queuing software, dubbed Falcon. Residential
Funding Corp. in Minneapolis, a creator of mortgage-backed securities,
is testing some of those pieces. Residential used Transaction Server,
SQL Server, and Windows NT 4.0 to build an application that lets
customers phone in or log on over the Internet to check the status of
loans. Deployment of the application began last week. "We got results
very quickly, and it's a good solution for our customers," says
Residential CIO Debra Hutchinson. "Our customer-service representatives
can spend their time dealing with more-complex issues. For all of our
core business and any new business, we will use this technology."
Microsoft's upcoming scalability event also will feature the first
public demonstration of 1 terabyte of data on SQL Server. Gray and
colleagues have loaded information such as satellite images of the
earth's surface onto the database, and users will be able to access the
data over the World Wide Web. Microsoft researchers are also working on
a project, code-named AlwaysUp, to bring high availability to SQL
Microsoft's long-term strategy is to show that hundreds of PC servers
can be clustered into a massively parallel system using Microsoft
software. "There's a huge amount of interest in this. It's clustering
for the rest of us," says Ken Rudin, managing director and president of
Emergent Corp., a systems integrator in San Mateo, Calif., that works
with IBM, Informix, and Oracle parallel databases. Rudin warns however,
that users shouldn't expect the ease of use they have grown to expect
from Microsoft. "They're in for a surprise," he says.
Still, technology managers see promise in commodity clusters. "The
price/performance ratio is going to be staggering if it works," says
Bill Freeland, director of R.R. Donnelley Financial's integrated media
lab in Hudson, Mass. The publishing company unit manages two Web sites
of financial information on Pentium NT servers running SQL Server 6.5,
and two more sites will be added this year. By year's end, Freeland
estimates, multiple SQL Server systems together will manage up to 600
Gbytes, making Donnelley one of Microsoft's biggest database sites.
Microsoft still has a lot to prove. Each SQL Server 6.5 database has a
recommended limit of 200 Gbytes, far short of what's needed for large
data warehousing projects. The database also lacks many of the tools and
features database managers have come to expect from other systems, such
as advanced storage management and parallel queries. To support its
database ambitions, Microsoft is getting organized. SQL Server group
product manager Jim Ewel has assumed responsibility for marketing
Transaction Server, which began shipping in January, and Falcon, which
is about to enter its second beta. Falcon works with SQL Server's
Distributed Transaction Coordinator to manage transactions among
multiple NT servers. "Transaction Server greatly helps the scalability
story," says Ewel. A Transaction Server developer's kit shipped last
month with Visual Studio 97. With these tools, Microsoft is pushing the
idea of "3-2-1" development: three-tier applications written by two
developers that can run in one month.
But the competition is hardly standing still. Oracle has made support
for Windows NT a top priority and will introduce a parallel version of
its database for NT this month. Informix, Sybase, and Computer
Associates each have more market share than Microsoft and have dropped
prices to compete with Microsoft's $100-per-user licenses. By midyear,
CA will deliver an upgrade to its relational database, OpenIngres 2.0,
as well as its new object-oriented database, Jasmine, both of which run
IBM is approaching from the rear with its DB2 Universal Database, slated
to ship in the second half. Alfred Spector, IBM's general manager of
transaction processing systems and chairman of the company's Transarc
subsidiary, says IBM will step up to Microsoft's "1 billion transactions
per day" challenge. "We can certainly do that," he says. IBM will pair
DB2 with its Encina transaction monitor to deliver benchmarks that are
"more faithful" than Microsoft's, says Spector. He suspects Microsoft
will use database partitioning to generate test results that are
impressive but unrealistic.
Nevertheless, the database industry is on notice. Microsoft's SQL Server
revenue doubled last year, to $210 million, estimates International Data
Corp., a market research firm in Framingham, Mass. Although that's just
5% of the client-server database market, one industry analyst believes
the momentum of Windows NT will pull SQL Server along, displacing
Informix, Sybase, and Computer Associates and leaving Oracle, Microsoft,
and IBM to battle it out for market leadership. "It's fast becoming a
three-horse race," says Kevin Strange, an analyst with Gartner Group
Inc., an IT advisory firm in Stamford, Conn. In fact, Informix is
already showing signs of strain (see story, p. 28).
The next release of SQL Server will close some of the technical gaps
between the Microsoft product and more-mature database management
systems. Planned features include row-level locking, distributed joins,
multiserver management, and multimaster replication. SQL Server will
also come with a metadata repository, providing a standard way to manage
the steps of extracting and preparing data for warehousing.
But the Sphinx SQL Server upgrade may have already hit snags. Sources
say Microsoft probably will miss its 1997 promised ship date. Also,
members of Microsoft's Alliance for Data Warehousing departed from a
two-day meeting last month grumbling that "Microsoft still doesn't
understand warehousing," says one source.
Still, confidence in Microsoft's database technology is growing. The
Federal Aviation Administration recently finished testing SQL
Server-on-NT systems at 13 sites and plans to begin deploying the
combination at dozens of locations. The distributed system will be used
to off-load applications from an IBM mainframe. The purchase criterion?
"When it comes down to it, bang for the buck," says Tom Penland, program
manager with the FAA's air transportation division.
Partners are lining up to help increase that bang. Digital Equipment
this quarter will introduce versions of its AlphaServer 8000 systems,
with up to a dozen 64-bit processors each, running Windows NT and SQL
Meanwhile, Microsoft developers have set their sights even higher. A
Microsoft white paper describes 16-node clusters capable of supporting
up to 20,000 concurrent users and 10 terabytes of data.
Gray will be a keynote speaker at this week's VLDB Summit in Chicago.
His topic: databases that hold petabytes-that's a thousand trillion
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