Five Nines: Windows 2000 Servers Deliver Near-Perfect Reliability for Businesses

REDMOND, Wash., Jan. 11, 2000 — “We want reliability!”
That was the call to action from business customers who demanded that their information technology (IT) environments run efficiently and predictably.

Microsoft listened to that appeal, and in response the company made maximum availability and reliability its most important goal when it designed the Windows 2000 family of server products — Windows 2000 Server, Advanced Server and Datacenter Server.

With these products, IT professionals can confidently run the mission-critical systems that are the foundation of today’s businesses.

As a result of Microsoft’s efforts, independent technology analysts such as DH Brown Associates and the Aberdeen Group agree that Windows 2000 is the most reliable operating system Microsoft has ever produced.

And they’re not alone. Other analysts like Giga Information Group have surveyed customers who moved to Windows 2000, and they conclude that the product
“lives up to its billing.”

Doing the Math with Five Nines

The IT industry measures server reliability by a string of the numeral 9. For example, 99.99 percent uptime is referred to as
“four nines,”
a benchmark that meets the needs of most businesses, as it equals less than one hour of downtime per year.

In a January 2001 white paper, Aberdeen Group reported the results of their study of 10 enterprise customers running Windows 2000 server products. The white paper revealed that these customers experienced an average uptime rate of 99.964 percent right out of the box. In their report, Aberdeen called this level of availability

Microsoft, however, views that performance level as a baseline. A server operating system alone doesn’t achieve the coveted
“five nines”
(99.999 percent) uptime benchmark, which equates to just over 5 minutes of downtime a year.

To deliver the ultimate in business availability for its high-end server, Microsoft teamed with industry-leading system providers to ensure that businesses incorporate the right combination of advanced technology, highly trained people and top-notch processes.

To support that approach, the company created the Windows Datacenter Program , which outlines a series of rigorous performance and customer service requirements that Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) must meet. The program consists of three elements:

  • Hardware Compatibility Test and Hardware Compatibility List (HCL). OEM products must pass a special Hardware Compatibility Test verifying that their hardware, the Datacenter Server operating system, and kernel-mode drivers all interact efficiently and optimally.

  • Jointly Staffed Support Queue. Microsoft and the OEM jointly staff a support queue for customers. Rather than calling two different support providers, one for hardware and one for the operating system, Datacenter Server customers dial a single number to quickly access an integrated support service.

  • Software Maintenance and Change Control. Customers can receive update subscriptions for version releases, supplements and Service Packs for Datacenter Server. The Datacenter Program also includes a change control service to ensure coordinated delivery of hardware and software updates. The service lets customers update their system on a periodic basis from one Datacenter HCL-qualified configuration to the next.

With help from Microsoft and its partners, a firm like FreeMarkets successfully implemented Datacenter Server. The company, which operates a full-service business-to-business electronic marketplace, now expects to rocket its system availability rate from 99.9 percent to 99.999 percent.

In its report on Datacenter Server, DH Brown Associates says,
“Windows 2000 clearly takes a major step up in the enterprise food chain and now resides legitimately on the same field as UNIX competitors. Moreover, the business programs that Microsoft has put in place around Windows 2000 Datacenter Server will give broad classes of users the confidence to deploy higher-end applications on its platform.”

Trust But Verify: Microsoft Offers Proof

To accurately assess the availability of any of the Windows 2000 servers, Microsoft has created a tool called the Event Log Analyzer (ELA), which records reliability data from the server product’s event logs. This data includes the cause of a shutdown; the amount of down time; the time required to reboot; and other information, including relevant start-up data.

Customers then provide the reliability data to Microsoft, which allows independent researchers like the Aberdeen Group to verify the near 100 percent reliability levels of Windows 2000 servers.

According to Aberdeen, the ELA tool
“has the potential to be highly useful for IS managers looking to determine the health of their Windows server environments — this kind of tool could not only help provide server reliability data, but could help IS managers isolate troublesome systems or applications.”
Aberdeen goes on to say that the tool
“represents a valid means to measure server reliability as well as server and application health.”

“Sun always talks about their reliability, but they never prove it,”
says Josh Anderson, a product manager at Microsoft.
“The perception of Sun is that they’re reliable, and people mistakenly don’t question them. They make it very difficult, if not impossible, to prove their claims. With ELA, we can provide accurate, hard data. Try getting that with our competitors, and you’re in for a challenge.”

Products, Processes, and People

With the server choices Microsoft makes available, customers can tailor their investment to the level of reliability they need for various business operations. This means that they don’t need to pay the
“reliability tax”
that big-box vendors demand for non-business critical operations.

Simply moving to Windows 2000 will improve system availability. However, to get the most out of the operating system requires a combination of reliable technology, soundly functioning operations and well-trained people.

FreeMarkets is one company that has taken this broad view of success, and it is paying dividends. A rapid economic justification analysis validated by the Giga Information Group determined that Windows 2000 Datacenter Server could improve systems reliability by helping FreeMarkets increase its systems availability from 99.9 percent to 99.999 percent. With Microsoft’s help, FreeMarkets can also offer streamlined support and services, provide higher reliability in their server environment and improve productivity in IT operations.

With these efficiencies, the firm anticipates a 20 percent improvement in operational productivity in managing upgrades and problem diagnosis, thereby permitting the reallocation of IT resources to other business-related IT projects. They also expect to reap a six-month payback and an internal rate of return of 252 percent.

“A projected 50 percent increase in system availability enhances user experience, creating a commercial advantage for us,”
says Doug Wnoroski, FreeMarkets senior vice president of Global Market Operations.
“Over time, increased reliability translates into an increase in auction volume, reduction in cost of operations, improved business productivity and quicker time to market with new products and services.”

Technology at the Core

People, processes and technology are equally important components of successful implementations of any mission-critical solution. From a technology perspective, the Windows 2000 server family of operating systems running on Intel-based systems delivers a powerful punch. Windows 2000 servers offer a wide array of industry-leading features and functionality, including:

Communications and Networking Services

Windows 2000 servers integrate complete network services to let organizations affordably set up and manage networks, connect remote employees, connect branch offices and set up partner extranets.

Management Services

Management services provide the tools and technologies needed to simplify security and management of servers, networks, and Windows desktops, all from a centralized location. These technologies include the Active Directory service, enterprise-class distributed security services, the IntelliMirror set of management technologies and Terminal Services for remote management.

Terminal Services

Windows 2000 Terminal Services technology lets users remotely execute applications on a Windows 2000-based server from a wide range of devices over virtually any type of network connection. With it, the latest Windows-based applications can be deployed in a fully server-centric mode, where applications run entirely on the server. The application is installed once on the server, and the clients automatically have access to the new or upgraded software package through Terminal Services Client software.

Web and Application Services

Windows 2000 is a fully Web-aware operating system, with a built-in Web server — Internet Information Services 5.0. It also includes the critical application development services needed to rapidly build integrated, component-based applications that take advantage of the Internet. Features such as the Component Object Model (COM+), message queuing and a language-neutral development environment simplify application development. These features help corporate developers and independent software vendors develop solutions faster, thus reducing their time to market.

Windows Clustering Technologies

Microsoft Cluster Services for Windows 2000 Advanced and Datacenter Servers deliver higher levels of service and availability. Cluster Services technology monitors the health of standard applications and services, and can automatically recover mission-critical data and applications from many common types of failure. A graphical management console lets administrators monitor the status of all resources in the cluster and move workloads around with simple point-and-click actions.

A related technology called Network Load Balancing integrates middleware and load balancing services designed to enable the even distribution of network traffic across clustered servers.

Successful Results

The most successful Microsoft customers put in place and follow efficient work processes. As a result, these companies are able to optimize their IT environments and build agile, responsive businesses.

The Enterprise Services (ES) frameworks can help users design these work processes — whether they want to establish an effective change control policy, design proactive risk management procedures or establish clear project roles and responsibilities.

Enterprise Services provide specific
“how to”
guidance regarding enterprise architecture, application development, component design and infrastructure deployment. The training emphasizes the people and process elements of the project in addition to the technology choices.

The ES framework, along with service support — through Microsoft Consulting Services and its partners — provides guidance and custom-tailored solutions for the entire IT life cycle.

“One of the keys to having a rock-solid availability is that you have to develop your systems with good programming practices and operate them in a reasonable way,”
says Microsoft’s Anderson.

Anderson suggests that customers explore ES as a way to see the best practices that enterprise organizations have learned over time.

If people use programs like Microsoft’s Enterprise Services to plan , prepare , build and operate their systems, they’re going to get reliability like they’ve never seen before. Customers have already implemented Microsoft solutions that are just as, if not more, reliable as a UNIX system, they’ve gotten to market much faster and they’ve done it all at a much lower price.”

Tools and Training Resources

Beyond the technology improvements in Windows 2000, Microsoft has also invested in tools and training resources to help customers create an IT environment that supports reliable operations.

Industry studies show that as much as 80 percent of system failures can be traced to human errors or flawed processes. Everyone knows someone who lost vital information because they forgot to backup their systems or ignored proper procedures for performing a wide range of operational tasks. An efficient IT operations environment can avoid these kinds of problems.

Two programs can help ensure that reliability and availability are not compromised: The Enterprise Services framework (described above) and the Microsoft Certification Program.

Microsoft certification can help organizations identify technical leaders who understand technology and can use that knowledge to innovate, take initiative and think strategically. Microsoft certification is an objective way for businesses to pinpoint individuals who have the right technical abilities and help them compete in their industry and move forward with the most advanced Microsoft technology.

Microsoft and its industry-leading system provider partners are delivering a complete package of reliable technology, process improvement offerings and training resources that are paying dividends for numerous businesses. Aberdeen reports that based on
“overwhelming feedback”
regarding its
“field-proven reliability,”
Windows 2000
“will be a real winner in both enterprise and IS environments.”

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