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Windows vs. Unix pits execs against techs


Windows vs. Unix pits execs against techs

Those with the power to purchase often set the stage for technology in the enterprise.

By Eric B. Parizo,

The decision to implement Windows- or Unix-based workstations and servers in the enterprise often boils down to a classic conflict between two divergent schools of thought: the executive versus the technologist.

Interoperability may appear to be detente between these two rival factions, but make no mistake. If each side had its own way, the face of enterprise computing would be rather one-sided.

According to Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of system software research at IDC in Framingham, Mass., executives tend to prefer Windows-based systems because they are softer on the bottom line. "Dilbert's boss is making the decision now rather than Dilbert, and Microsoft has been speaking to Dilbert's boss for years, telling them how they can make life easier for them," Kusnetzky said.

He said if an executive serves as a company's primary technology decision maker, that company is much more likely to favor less expensive, packaged applications, which thrive in Windows environments.

Conversely, if the IT staff has the authority to sway purchasing decisions, Kusnetzky said that Unix is typically preferred. Even though a Unix-based system can perform the tasks of several Windows-based systems, Unix's popularity wanes among executives because of its hefty price tag. Unix often provides greater stability, availability, and standards compliance than Windows, and offers a better overall environment to perform tasks such as application development and customization.

Oddly enough, Kusnetzky said, most enterprises compromise by striving for Unix-Windows interoperability.

However, executives should consider themselves warned, according to Eric A. Hall, president of San Mateo, Calif.-based network research and testing company EHS Co., because there is no definitive financial advantage when it comes to interoperability. "The business advantage of integration is it allows you to solve what other real problems you're having," Hall said. "It's not an objective on its own. It's a means to an end, not an end in and of itself." For instance, Hall said that a company running Windows may solve some of its complex administration or operational issues by also implementing Unix.

Doug Akers, Product Manger for MKS, Inc., a Fairfax, Va.-based developer of Windows-Unix interoperability solutions, said interoperability in the enterprise is not quite as painful as some may think. "It's not difficult at all. Cost not being a barrier, you 're going to opt for the system that best suits the ends you have. There are tons of tools out there that allow you to do this, from a file level, or a connectivity level," Akers said.

When they coexist, Unix is traditionally running the back-end, mission-critical servers. Windows tends to exist just about everywhere else, where a less-expensive solution can prevail successfully. "Organizations don't have one and only one operational server environment. On average, they have five, and each was purchased to do a different set of things," said Kusnetzky.

Even though Microsoft has been advocating its interoperability tools suite, Windows Services for Unix 2.0, Akers said a less expensive, third-party alternative for integrating the two platforms might be a smart choice.

A case for Microsoft tools can be made when Unix is being used as a file or data server, especially when the implementation of Sun's Network File System (NFS) is necessary. If the Unix system's primary role is as a data repository, according to Akers, then third-party Web-based tools could do the job.

In the end, interoperability may not always be a match made in heaven, but it may not be the path to destruction either. Experts have differing opinions on the wisdom of an interoperable Windows-Unix solution. Said Kusnetzky, "About the only way I could see it being a bad idea is when people don't hire or contract the right resources. Quite often failures revolve around a failure to do the right planning and expertise on staffing."

"People end up mixing Windows and Unix because they have to. They need one and the other, and they have to make them work together," said Hall.

MORE ON THIS TOPIC: features a Windows2000-specific search engine and extensive information on the topic. has a section of Best Web Links devoted to Integration/Interoperability Issues.

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