REDMOND, Wash., Nov. 8, 1999 — In an age where every day seems to bring a new paradigm shift, much has been written about the impact of technology on the enterprise. Networks, email and the Web are giving rise to increasingly competitive global markets, while at the same time transforming the way companies collect information, make decisions, and create products and services. With these changes have come incredible opportunities and unprecedented demands. To stay competitive, businesses need tools that help them lower costs, respond rapidly to changes in the marketplace and empower employees to focus on work that adds value for customers. Increasingly, successful companies are finding that the ability to take advantage of the Internet to automate transactions with suppliers, partners and customers is critical.
In this rapidly changing business environment, companies are depending more than ever on the power of software to help manage communications, analyze vast amounts of information and run critical operations. Software is a critical link in the business chain. As a result, business leaders have come to expect unprecedented levels of performance and reliability from software developers.
“There’s more pressure on companies than ever before,” said Tom Bernhardt, chief technology officer of Mission Critical Software, a Houston-based company that creates systems management software solutions for Fortune 500 companies. “Once a upon a time, IT infrastructure was primarily for making operations more efficient. With the Internet, it is being exposed to the outside world and it has become mission critical from a revenue standpoint. Issues like reliability, security, performance and deployment time are now front and center.”
To help meet the demands this places on software developers, Microsoft is working toward the creation of “Friction Free” software. A concept at the core of Windows DNA, Microsoft’s platform for distributed Web applications, Friction Free software is designed to let developers create software that offers 24×7 reliability, while providing the highest levels of security, manageability and scalability — requirements for developers who are creating the next generation of applications. Windows 2000, the operating system that serves as foundation for the Windows DNA platform, provides many of the elements that make Friction Free software possible.
Driving the move to Friction Free software is the growing importance of distributed Web applications. According to Microsoft Group Marketing Manager Scott Fallon, one of today’s key emerging changes is the rise of applications that depend on services and features of other applications and Web sites. Increasingly, these services and features come from other providers and are likely to be hosted in remote locations.
“The Web is creating a new model where software becomes services,” he explains. “In the past, developers mostly utilized the services available on one machine — the user’s. In this new world, you can take advantage of functionality that is located across the Web. It’s a completely different situation that requires real-time services from many providers and it is essential that these services go up quickly, deliver great performance and scale to meet any traffic demands at any given moment. Meeting these requirements is the hallmark of Friction Free software.”
The basic requirement for distributed Web applications is 100 percent reliability. The starting point for Friction Free software is the ability to deliver uninterrupted uptime. Windows 2000 was engineered with a host of new features designed specifically to provide the highest levels of reliability, including dynamic load balancing to evenly distribute incoming traffic across server clusters. The server-clustering capabilities of Windows 2000 also supports advanced fail-over features that automatically reconfigure an entire server cluster to compensate when a Windows 2000-based server experiences problems or is taken offline for maintenance.
Another key piece of Friction Free software is scalability. As business operations increasingly rely on services distributed across the Web, the ability to handle rapidly changing server loads will be critical. “Now enterprises are dealing not only with internal people, but with hundreds or even thousands of potential partners and suppliers,” said Prashanth Viswanath, president and chief technology officer of Entevo Corp. Based in Arlington, Va., Entevo provides directory management software to some of the world’s largest companies. “And if you are involved in e-commerce, you have millions of potential customers. You have to be prepared to handle any number of those users in any combination at any given time.”
Windows 2000 provides a wide range of features designed to deliver enhanced scalability, including improvements to memory allocation and support for large, high-performance storage subsystems.
Eliminating failure is just one of the promises of Friction Free software — smooth management of increasing complexity is also a requirement. With the rise of distributed, Web-based computing and the increasing complexity of multitier enterprise networks, the biggest challenges that businesses face may be managing their communications infrastructure and information assets. One of the greatest strengths of the Windows 2000 platform is its powerful set of management tools designed to allow administrators to centrally manage everything from network operations to user information, applications, desktop settings, security and operating system installations.
A key component of the robust management capabilities of Windows 2000 is Microsoft’s IntelliMirror technologies. IntelliMirror makes it possible for administrators to give users access to their personal data, applications and computer preferences anywhere on a corporate network; it lets administrators specify a set of applications that are always available to users and provides for remote maintenance and deployment of those applications; and it allows administrators to centrally manage and control desktop computers.
Wise Solutions Inc., is one software vendor that is taking advantage of IntelliMirror technologies to create software that enhances enterprise computer infrastructure management. Based in Canton, Mich., Wise Solutions is the developer of installation software including Wise for Windows Installer, InstallMaster and InstallBuilder. These applications provide network managers with true installation-on-demand.
“In the old days, if a user didn’t install an application or the features of an application, when the time came to use that software, he’d just get an error message,” said John McMillan, Wise Solutions’ vice president for research and development. “Now the feature is installed on the spot. What that means is that you only have to install what you need when you need it, which improves flexibility and helps keep down costs.”
Another foundation of Friction Free software is Active Directory technology. Active Directory simplifies information infrastructure management by providing a single, consistent point of management for users, applications and devices. It also enhances network security and extends the interoperability of the Windows platform with a wide range of applications and devices.
“We think that the Active Directory is the most significant addition to Windows 2000,” said Mission Critical’s Bernhardt. “As a vendor of management software, we help customers policy-protect the content of the Active Directory and monitor its health. The increased scalability and data richness of Active Directory makes its information so much more important than before.”
According to Bernhardt, one of the biggest areas of growth he is seeing is in what he calls service-level agreements, which allows companies to measure and evaluate the performance of information systems provided both by outside contractors and internal IT departments. Mission Critical Software’s OnePoint product suite takes advantage of Active Directory features to give users access to a wide range of performance, availability and security metrics.
“Companies can’t afford outages so they are looking to establish contractual baseline performance standards,” Bernhardt said. “It may be 98 percent uptime, for example, or an average response time under two seconds. Windows 2000 gives us the ability to measure services levels even when you get to millions of events.”
Winning the Race to Market
One of the biggest concerns for IT departments and application developers is meeting corporate demands for rapid turnaround of software development projects. In the mid-1990s, software development cycles were measured in years, and typical projects ran anywhere from 18 to 24 months. Today, software development is measured in weeks: three months from start to finish is not unusual for an enterprisewide development effort.
Friction Free software helps developers match this pace by allowing them to focus on business problems, not basic systems services. Through Windows 2000, Windows DNA integrates application services such as COM+, transaction support, message queuing and XML support. “A lot of the plumbing is baked right into the platform,” said Microsoft’s Scott Fallon. “The fact that you don’t have to spend your time reinventing the wheel allows you to maximize efficiency and reduce development time and costs.”
Prashanth Viswanath agrees. “Microsoft technologies like COM+, Active Directory and XML support are tools we can leverage to meet our customers changing demands,” he said.
Building on these Microsoft technologies, Entevo has taken advantage of the Friction Free software approach to develop DirectManage, a suite of enterprise management software products that is helping companies reduce costs, improve return on investment and respond more quickly to changes in the market place.
“To me, it’s all about availability,” said Viswanath. “Availability has different angles – scalability, reliability, response time, load balancing, security. But what it all comes down to is making sure that people have continuous access to the resources they need to do their jobs. In the end, Friction Free software is all about providing businesses with tools that help them meet this basic requirement. Microsoft technologies offers us the best platform for helping our customers achieve that goal.”