Movin' On Up

If at First They Don't Succeed...

...they try, try again. Microsoftproduct designers don't quit until they get it right--and, eventually, they succeed. Windows Server 2003 is a good example. A decade after it first introduced Windows NT Server, Microsoft wants you to extend your demonstrated preference for its other software products by adopting WS03 for your LAN, Web and database needs. While Microsoft owns an 80 percent-plus share of most markets, it's still running with the pack in this category. That means it's trying really hard to please--giving WS03 both attractive features and more flexible licensing arrangements.

While no first software edition is perfect, Microsoft has done a pretty good job fixing the NT Server 4.0 "pain points" and solidifying the enhancements it introduced in the Windows 2000 Server, according to Tony Iams, the vice president and research director for D.H. Brown Associates, an IT research firm: "Now those features are stable and easy to use."

WS03 is built with the same code as your Windows XP desktops with links to .NET, which Microsoft hopes will become the operating system of the Internet. There's a single pipe from your Microsoft Office desktops and Microsoft application development tools, like Visual Studio, through your servers and on to Internet plumbing standards like SOAP, UDDI and XML, which--big surprise--have Microsoft as their principal sponsor.

This uniformity means more direct manipulation of remote desktops from the server console and easier configuration using WS03 tools. Rules-based routines mean even an IT generalist can configure WS03, paring down unnecessary OS services you don't need.

That, combined with improved network performance reported by independent testers, means you can accomplish more with less hardware and network bandwidth. Some WS03 upgraders report reducing their server count and support staff by a third and overall costs by 20 percent.

This approach also leaves "less surface area" for hackers to attack, says Katy Hunter, group product manager. Better identity management in Active Directory Services and automatic bug patches also enhance security and reliability. Less IT time is needed to keep WS03 up and running.

Windows Server 2003 is too new to have empirical evidence about its ROI. But testimonials from beta testers suggest you could recoup this investment in six to 18 months.

Dishing Data
Has your Web site become an always-on vacuum, sucking up information on customers and visitors alike? Somewhere in all that data are the preferences of your customers and potential customers.

But it takes a very robust data manager, like Oracle 9i, to keep up with the flow and extract the insights needed to recalibrate your marketing, customer service and inventory activities. These applications all include databases, too, and feed into your accounting system--just another database. All your different contact lists? Databases. Your messaging system? A very important database. The trouble is, they seldom share, locking up your most important corporate asset inside a lot of disparate applications on a lot of desktops, servers and Web sites. The Oracle solution is to operate a single, centralized data center on your network, accessible by all your applications.

Data can actually be spread across a cluster of low-cost Intel hardware that operates like one virtual server. In fact, mirroring data on servers in more than one geographic location provides quick disaster recovery, workload leveling and quicker data transfer for far-flung operations. Both your servers and the Oracle data center scale up easily in response to, say, increased holiday sales.

You don't have to be a large company to need Oracle 9i; just have a high-transaction e-commerce site, messaging server or other mission-critical application where sluggish performance can nibble productivity to death and downtime would be disaster. Independent tests have shown that Oracle 9i can dish data twice as fast as popular alternatives and faster still than the application-specific databases most companies use. That means you can get your work done while spending less on computing power and network bandwidth.

Oracle 9i reliability and security reduce IT management time. A recent study by market research firm The Radicati Group concluded that Oracle offers the lowest downtime costs and the lowest TCO among major database products. And here's another money saver: Unlike most software, you buy Oracle once and get upgrades for life.

Buyer, Beware
By now, most corporate technology buyers appreciate that purchase price is just the down payment on complex gear--like networks and phone systems. Significant after-sale costs are always involved in wringing productivity from high-tech equipment, sometimes making the total cost of operation orders of magnitude beyond your original cash outlay.

A check is seldom cut when these costs are incurred. They're paid in soft dollars hidden in budget catchalls like G&A or training, making total cost of ownership (TCO) difficult to pin down. Time is always an element--time spent on qualifying a product, deployment, training IT personnel and other employees. Worker productivity lost to downtime during a system changeover or system crashes looms large--as does the increase in IT management needed as a product's useful life ticks down.

TCO differs by product, user billing rates and variables unique to a particular company or application mix. An example is the TCO calculator for a LAN deployment provided by Dell. Your company's variables may differ. But this is a good start.

Next: Go IP »

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This article was originally published in the September 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Movin' On Up.

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