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July 31, 1998

Microsoft's Competition With UNIX Is Heating Up:First Union Is Switching to Software Giant's Wind

By Om Malik

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  • Microsoft's Competition With UNIX Is Heating Up:First Union Is Switching to Software Giant's Wind

Wrestling with a long tradition of Wall Street competition, Microsoft is dipping into a $1 billion development budget hoping to snatch more lucrative broker-dealer business.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant's goal: getting technology departments to reverse their preference for UNIX-based software solutions over Microsoft products.

Wall Street, to be sure, uses plenty of Microsoft systems, including its word-processing software, Microsoft Word, and spreadsheet tools like Microsoft Excel.

But for more than a decade, information-technology staffs almost universally shunned Microsoft products for running large databases and trading systems, and managing other big-ticket projects.

That's likely to change, experts say, thanks to the latest versions, and some good reviews, of Microsoft's high-end operating system Windows NT.

Operating Systems

Microsoft makes three types of operating systems, or platforms: Windows 98, targeted at the consumer market; Windows CE, used in palm-sized PCs; and Windows NT, used in high-end workstations and servers.

So far, Wall Street staffs have generally been happy to use Windows 98-type operating systems on their laptops and desktop computers.

But UNIX-based technology is still the choice for trade stations.

However, the result of using both systems has caused technical snafus. Now Microsoft is betting that it can convince Wall Street to fully convert to Windows NT.

Windows NT would then displace UNIX-based systems, such as Sun Microsystems' Solaris operating system and Novell's NetWare network operating system.

Microsoft is investing about $1 billion on research and development to make sure it continues to be the best and most powerful server available on the market, according to Matt Conners, the financial-services marketing manager at Microsoft.

Firm Switches

One firm betting on Windows NT is First Union Capital Markets, the investment-banking arm of Charlotte, N.C.-based First Union Corp.

In a recent upgrade to its network, the firm opted for an environment running on Microsoft products, with the Microsoft Windows NT Server operating system as its backbone.

First Union hasn't actually abandoned UNIX, however.

"We haven't completely migrated from UNIX to Windows NT. We are using a mixture of Solaris and Windows NT environments. Most of the traders still have Solaris," said Sushil Vyas, assistant vice president in charge of First Union's Windows NT Server infrastructure.

First Union's mostly Sybase databases run on Solaris servers.

"We never replaced Solaris with Windows NT, and Solaris is still used for most of the trading-floor operations," Vyas said.

Windows NT primarily replaced Novell throughout the firm, but did not replace Solaris.

Decision

The decision to replace Novell on the back end with Windows NT was driven by the development of many 32-bit applications for the trading community, Vyas says.

"We looked at Windows 95 with the existing back end. But IPX protocol from the back end [Novell] wasn't very suitable for our wide-area network design," he said.

"Fault tolerance for the network was at the top of our list," Vyas added. "Our traders cannot have computers that go down. Up time is key to our business."