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Microsoft's 'superplatform' tells a strong enterprise story

Tight cohesion among Microsoft's products and "vision" are standouts in the competitive platform race, according to a new Burton Group report.

As Microsoft rolls out key products this year and next, it could potentially leapfrog its competitors in the "superplatform" arena, according to a new report from the Burton Group, Midvale, Utah.

"In terms of providing a platform for the information worker, Microsoft has really got it nailed," said Anne Thomas Manes, vice president and research director at the Burton Group, and lead author on "The Microsoft Superplatform: Setting the Bar in the Superplatform Arms Race." "Microsoft is the most visionary of all of the [superplatform] players," she said.

The Burton Group defines the superplatform, an outgrowth of the middleware market, as a tightly integrated suite of products that provides a platform for enterprise computing. The Burton Group also puts IBM, BEA Systems Inc., Oracle Corp. and SAP AG in this category. Of these players, the Burton Group said Microsoft has the most cohesive offering. The main tradeoffs are vendor lock-in and .NET vs. Java.

Microsoft and IBM are controlling the whole future of Web services, and they're doing it together. They're totally unstoppable in that regard.
Anne Thomas Manes
Vice President and Research DirectorThe Burton Group

In its quest to be an enterprise player, Microsoft has done much to address enterprise-class security, scalability and manageability in Windows Server 2003, the foundation of its superplatform, according to the Burton Group. "For a long time Microsoft was relegated to the branch office or the small or medium-sized business," Manes said. "Now the stuff [Windows platform] is really scalable and powerful, and you can definitely use it as a core data-center-type operating system."

And over the next two years, Microsoft will be rolling out the next versions of its desktop operating system, now called Windows Vista, which will include the Windows Presentation Foundation (formerly code-named Avalon) and Windows Communication Foundation (formerly code-named Indigo), and the next version of its server, code-named Longhorn Server, which the Burton Group said will offer an even more integrated foundation and advanced platform capabilities. Visual Studio 2005, which includes an update to the .NET Framework (version 2.0), and SQL Server 2005 are expected to ship in November.

While scalability is still an issue for some organizations when choosing a superplatform, "less than 5%" will find Windows is not scalable enough. "The major limitation for Windows is the type of scalability it supports and the number of machines you can put into it. If you're Visa, and you process 8,000 transactions per second, you might have trouble. But if you're an insurance company, no problem." And, she pointed out, Microsoft runs its own company on the Windows platform.

Security remains a concern for Component Object Model (COM) applications, but she said development with .NET is very secure. "If you're developing entirely with .NET, then Windows is very secure; it's comparable to Java. If you're still running COM, they haven't done much to block the security vulnerabilities. They're in a challenging position because they will not be able to resolve security issues until they do away with COM. A lot of companies are not willing to turn off COM; they've got too much stuff there." And, she pointed out, "Microsoft still hasn't completed its own transition to .NET."

For several organizations, vendor lock-in is an important issue, but the portability benefits of choosing a Java platform become less as enterprise environments get more sophisticated and complex, Manes said. "The Java superplatforms offer so many bells and whistles you don't get the portability you might once have gotten. Are you seriously going to convert all of your WebLogic applications to WebSphere? It's a huge amount of work."

But don't expect Microsoft to support Java eventually. "It's not in their best interest. They do have J# to write in the Java syntax, and then you can compile into .NET," Manes said.

Manes pointed out that unlike Java, .NET supports numerous languages. ".NET is a virtual machine system comparable to Java; it's a runtime framework. The big difference between .NET and Java is .NET is a multi-language system at heart."

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In terms of the competitive landscape, Manes said BEA is vulnerable. "They're falling behind. They have nowhere near as broad an offering in feature/functions as the others." And in her report she identified SAP as the "wildcard." Oracle, she said, has beefed up its Fusion strategy. "They have a comprehensive identity management solution, a Web services management solution, which nobody else has, and good collaboration. Oracle is pretty close, but Microsoft and IBM are in a class by themselves."

The two companies are also setting the direction for a service-oriented world. "Microsoft and IBM are controlling the whole future of Web services, and they're doing it together. They're totally unstoppable in that regard," Manes said.

But despite Microsoft's growing muscle as a superplatform, do not expect an all-Microsoft world, she said. "The Java world is never going away."

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