Some businesses find that moving their ERP applications from Unix to Windows servers has its advantages
When explosives manufacturer Dyno Nobel ASA began looking for a way to upgrade its sputtering SAP applications, it considered reinvesting in the Hewlett-Packard Unix systems already supporting them or even relocating the apps to a different data center where they might be managed at a lower cost. Instead, Dyno Nobel moved its applications to Windows-based servers hosted by AT&T.
"We had performance issues with our SAP setup," says Morten Stodle, VP of information systems and IT at Dyno Nobel. Part of the problem was that the underlying Informix database and HP-UX servers weren't effectively configured with the applications. "We needed to do something," Stodle says.
For a growing number of business-technology managers in similar situations, that "something" involves moving their enterprise- resource-planning applications from Unix to Windows. ERP-on-Windows servers edged out ERP-on-Unix servers last year, and the margin will widen over the next few years, technology research firm IDC says.
"The Windows platform has become one of the preferred environments for ERP vendors, mainly because of the increase in the number of Windows servers out there," IDC analyst Albert Pang says.
Based on data its sales team generated, Microsoft estimates ERP-on-Windows projects will grow 150% in the current fiscal year compared with last year. "A lot of customers are on older versions of SAP and PeopleSoft, and until they get current, they can't add new modules," says Dennis Oldroyd, a director of Microsoft's Windows server group. "We're finding that a lot of those customers are taking another look at Windows and SQL Server."
Dyno Nobel made the switch to Windows in July. From a data center in Mesa, Ariz., AT&T manages nearly a dozen SAP applications used by 1,200 Dyno Nobel employees in 60 locations around the world. Theoretically, Stodle says, the underlying operating system shouldn't matter to his company as long as AT&T meets agreed-to service levels. Yet, because Microsoft technologies are used elsewhere in Dyno Nobel's IT infrastructure, AT&T's Windows-SQL Server environment was a good fit. "It became much easier to administer the total architecture we had by going to a Windows platform," he says.
For Smead Manufacturing Co., it was a two-step process to get to Windows-based business applications. In the late 1990s, the consumer-products manufacturer transitioned from a mainframe envi- ronment to PeopleSoft modules running on Unix servers and Oracle databases. However, it wasn't long before performance issues that would have required a multimillion-dollar upgrade surfaced. "We stepped back and said, 'We've got some problems here,'" VP of information systems Joseph Vossen says.
So, a few years ago, Smead transitioned its PeopleSoft applications over to Windows servers and hired new administrators to manage them. The company has saved millions in cost avoidance associated with the Unix servers and by simplifying on an IT architecture that's mostly Microsoft software, Vossen estimates.
Yet Microsoft doesn't have a lock on the ERP market. According to IDC, Unix will continue to get a sizable share of new ERP projects, and Linux's share of sales will grow even faster than Windows'.
And Sun Microsystems CIO Bill Vass warns of the costs associated with retraining IT staff and porting applications from Unix to Windows. "Companies need to look carefully before they do those kinds of things," he says. Sun is pushing its Solaris-on-x86 servers as an upgrade path for older Unix installations--and a cheap alternative to Windows.
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