Demand A Bigger Windows Box for All

Another day, another case study and this time, it’s a large German financial institution and how it tackled the challenge of securely managing client and partner access to its applications over a large IP network.

A useful aspect of writing so many case studies involving some very large and high profile businesses, is that under non-disclosure, one sees what is really happening, where the application of technology can make a difference and even where it can’t.

Take the Skipton Building society as an example. A Unisys and Microsoft customer, it reduced its annual IT costs by £3 million through replacing a mainframe and seventy line of business servers with eight of Unisys’ big ES7000 servers, a mix of 8-way and 32-way SMP units with 208 Intel processors between them and making this the largest ES7000 implementation of its kind in the UK.

Stories like this are not just about consolidation and cost saving, although this represents a strong factor in the decision process. They are also about storage, disaster recovery and security and just as importantly using the consolidation principle to facilitate a return to running a successful business rather than a large and constantly expanding IT shop.

The same is true elsewhere. One company I’m studying at the moment has a thousand servers, which they are sensibly consolidating into two ‘Windows Mainframes’ and another European city government is streamlining its administration in much the same way.

When I first explored the idea of a ‘Windows Mainframe’ four years ago, I was a little cynical. After all, this was still barely “Windows 2000” and if you discussed its scalability and reliability in contrast with UNIX with other analysts, they giggled.

Today, it is a rather different story because the ES7000, Windows Datacenter combination not only works but it works incredibly well. Add an EMC or Symmetrix storage solution and a disaster recovery programme and you have IT Directors happily offering comments like “We now have the resilience of a mainframe system combined with the flexibility of Windows”, or “It proves that Microsoft can produce mission critical systems”.

Stepping back for a moment to reflect, comments like these are coming from businesses that frequently underpin the economy of their countries. I can think back to the launch of Windows NT years ago at the first ‘NT show’ at London’s Olympia, when Nat West bank presented its case for choosing the product. The more informed journalist in the audience, the usual suspects, whispered among themselves knowingly and sure enough, Nat West’s enthusiasm for NT looked decidedly premature when things started to go expensively wrong a little later. At the time, Windows NT was clearly not up to the job in terms of scalability or reliability and at one point, you could see the visible result in Nat West cash-points when they crashed but today it is a very different story. If you ask the customer where the problems were, then you are more likely to receive a ‘culture of change’ reply than one, which identifies a scalability or reliability problem, which I have yet to hear.

Can you then squeeze a national bank into two or three window boxes? The answer appears to be a convincing 'Yes'. Sure, there will still be legacy applications and systems floating around which need a reliable UNIX host but in another study I am working on, I have the example of a bank, which uses the same ES7000 to manage its email during the day and process the previous day’s transactions in a seven-hour overnight ‘window’. In this case, they could not find another solution, which could serve the same mission-critical dual purpose on budget, and in the time, they had available for the processing run.

So I’m sold, if only because as one of the UK’s officially rated and ‘most cynical columnists’, I’m being told that consolidation works because it solves the expensive administrative problem of ‘server creep’. Of course you can have hundreds if not thousands of cheap commodity servers if you wish but visit the large organisations who are trying to manage them and they will tell you that a single Datacenter with a few large window boxes is much easier to administer and can like the Skipton, save the business millions in IT costs.

So bigger appears to be better and every large company should have its own large windows box perhaps, unless of course managing a thousand different servers sounds like a good idea?


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