NEW YORK (04/28/2000) - Microsoft has announced a major push into the financial services arena, spurred in part by what it claims is the rapid adoption of Windows 2000 by Wall Street's biggest players.
Those companies include Wells Fargo Services Co., Merrill Lynch & Co.'s Private Client Group and Credit Suisse First Boston Corp.
Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer told attendees at a recent financial summit here that the company is pulling its key financial accounts into a single unit and beefing up its technical support arm.
Taking aim at Sun Microsystems Inc., Microsoft's arch rival on Wall Street, Ballmer claimed that Windows 2000-based systems are faster, more reliable and more scalable than those that run on Sun's Solaris environment.
For example, Ballmer claimed that a version of Windows 2000 running on a Compaq ProLiant 8500 server had a fourfold price/performance advantage over Sun's Solaris.
"The old idea was to get a big box and make sure it's big enough and, while you're at it, buy two big boxes because one might fail someday," said Ballmer.
"But there's another approach, with many, many servers. You can add processing capability linearly as you need it.
"You can never design a box big enough to run the biggest application on the Web," he added. "Just when you think you've done that, the application gets bigger."
Sun executives agreed with him - but said they thought of that same thing themselves several years ago.
"We sell truckloads of servers for exactly what he's talking about, cheap low-end servers for linear scaling for everyone from ETrade to J. Crew," said Anil Gadre, Sun's general manager of Solaris, reached by phone at Sun in Palo Alto, California. "They're more stable and more reliable than the equivalent thing from the Microsoft space."
One company that agrees with Ballmer's view is Credit Suisse First Boston, which is shifting from Sun to Windows in a recently launched migration effort.
"We kept buying these big boxes," said Credit Suisse First Boston CIO Steve Long. "We bought five of them, and eventually we decided it was getting too expensive."
He said the Windows switchover, which will take 18 to 24 months, will eliminate the single-point-of-failure problem his firm has experienced with the Sun environment.
Another convert to Windows 2000 is Merrill Lynch, which is rolling out Windows 2000 operating systems and servers at more than 700 branch locations. However, Merrill Lynch Chief Technology Officer John McKinley says the company uses 3,200 Sun servers to support Web applications and as workstations and servers for trading floors.
"There is tremendous software already developed to support Wall Street firms for the Sun platforms," he said. "We see a fair amount of third-party software development for the Microsoft platform, but it still doesn't have the software developer market share in the capital markets arena."
Other attendees said they were skeptical about upgrading to Windows 2000 from Windows NT or about switching from the Sun platform.
"It was 1997 before we switched to Windows 95," said one information technology professional at a major New York bank. "It was last year before we went to Windows NT. We want to see someone else find all the bugs first."