MS, Sun, Linux vendors sell to power users

Operating systems vendors clamour for attention in the bid to sell to the financial services industry

Microsoft, Sun Microsystems and other operating system vendors will try to impress the high-powered financial services industry this week with top-of-the-line offerings.

The companies are expected to claim ownership of the high-end crown at the Securities Industry Association show -- a showcase event for vendors, integrators and customers in the financial services market, where reliability and scalability are key requirements.

Microsoft is slated to provide an update on one of its high-end operating system releases -- its 64-bit edition of Windows 2000, a product that has yet to go to beta test, but which company officials continue to promise will ship simultaneously with Intel's IA-64 processor family at the end of this year. Microsoft has offered a few previous sneak peaks of pre-alpha versions of this release, the latest at Networld+Interop in early May.

Microsoft will provide its 64-bit update at an event on Wednesday, hosted by SunGard, a financial services company.

It's a pull-out-the-stops effort by OS vendors to convince the ultimate power customers to buy their products. Microsoft isn't expected to talk much, if at all, about its forthcoming 64-bit versions of its Windows 2000 successor, code-named Whistler.

According to internal Microsoft documents viewed by ZDNet News, that release is considerably further behind, with Microsoft predicting only 32-bit alpha versions of Whistler will be ready to deliver to key software and hardware partners by the end of this month. The first full-fledged public beta of Whistler is currently targeted for late August; it is unclear if Microsoft will be able to deliver 64-bit versions of Whistler at that time.

Sun, meanwhile, is holding an event of its own on Wednesday, where it is expected to highlight how some of its customers and partners, such as AB Watley, Arcordia (the JP Morgan and EDS venture), Dresdner Kleinwort Benson and Scotiabank are using Solaris and other Sun technologies in securities and capital markets applications.

As Microsoft and Sun tout their scalability in particular verticals, they also have been beating the reliability drum, too.

Last week in Japan, Microsoft participated in a proof-of-concept demonstration in conjunction with Unisys, where the pair showed a 32-way Unisys E7000 server running the latest beta of Microsoft's Windows 2000 Datacentre Server.

At the Windows 2000 launch in February, Microsoft and Unisys demonstrated Datacentre running on a 16-CPU Unisys system and committed to being able to run 16.6bn transactions per day on a 32-way machine in the not-too-distant future. The 15 June demonstration, running the Amadeus/ITA low-far search solution met that requirement, Unisys officials said.

Windows 2000 Datacentre Server was slated to ship 90 to 120 days after the rest of Windows 2000. The product reached the Beta 2 milestone in late May; Microsoft is still promising to release Datacentre to manufacturing before the end of the summer, making it two to three months late. Microsoft is testing Datacentre among select OEM and software partners, as well as among a number of key Joint Development Program (JDP) accounts.

Datacentre Server will support two and four-node clusters, up to 64 GB of memory, 32-CPU systems and network load balancing, Microsoft has said.

The Linux vendors aren't conceding the high-end space to the big boys. Indeed, TurboLinux and SuSE have both fielded products in the Linux clustering space. TurboLinux has said it is interested in challenging not just mainframe operating systems, but supercomputer systems as well. At the same time, the Beowulf Project, a NASA research project that currently is hosted by Scyld Computing, is tackling the high-end Linux clustering challenge.

Next week, SteelEye Technology will unveil a Linux port of LifeKeeper, the NCR clustering failover product that SteelEye acquired late last year. SteelEye officials claim LifeKeeper for Linux will help make Linux synonymous with high availability and reliability, as it will bring more than just load balancing support to the operating system. And SteelEye is in the midst of porting other former NCR high-end applications, such as software Raid and disaster recovery, to Linux as well.

One Linux user said he already considers Linux a viable mission-critical offering.

"From my own experience I have found Linux to not only be low-cost but extremely stable. I am able to run Linux on 486s and older Pentiums and still get good performance in many mission critical applications," said an IT manager at a major insurance company, who requested anonymity.

"I have run Linux as a firewall, router, Web server, FTP server, mail server, application server, print server, file server, fax server and reporting server. In each instance I have found it to be dependable and capable even on less powerful hardware and would trust Linux in any mission-critical situation."

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