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December 22, 1998


Will Indian ISPs slam doors on Windows? Claims and counter-claims obscure NT's battle against Unix in the Great Indian ISP War.Will Indian ISPs slam doors on Windows? Claims and counter-claims obscure NT's battle against Unix in the Great Indian ISP War.
Priya Ganapati in Bombay

Cisco versus Bay. US Robotics versus Hayes. RADIUS versus TACACS.

And, of course... Windows versus Unix.

Since the Internet services business has been opened for participation from the private sector, several fronts have taken positions in the battle to win the Great ISP War.

Email this story to a friend. The stakes for Net technology providers rise as one ISP after another announces its business plans.

Given the same bandwidth and server hardware, the next parameter in technology performance on the Internet comes from the operating system.

But never mind that, the battle for the operating system matters most. Eventually, the OS on servers across the world will determine who gets to rule the World Wide Web.

In India, most ISPs are busy rigging up equipment. A few have begun operations in fits and starts. This is the time that OS and platform decisions are being made.

And it is no wonder that the Big Two in the business, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, have drawn out the long knives.

Rediff was caught in the lunges and slashes between Sun and Microsoft when it ventured to investigate the reasons behind Bharti-BT's decision to go with a Unix platform for its nation-wide ISP venture.

Bharti-BT CEO N Arjun said "Yes. It is true that we decided to go for Unix. We think Unix is more stable as compared to Windows NT. For machine-critical missions and other operations like clustering we found Unix to be better than NT."

Was this a business decision made over a few lunches or has Bharti-BT any scientific data to support this all-important choice?

Arjun assures that the homework was well done. "We went through an internal evaluation process. We looked at the strengths and weaknesses of each product and Unix was most suited for our needs. The evaluation criteria were broadly based on factors like software availability, cost of application and environment. We found that Unix was superior to NT in all these areas."

Arjun is planning to deploy Sun Solaris on E 450 machines for all of Bharti-BT's Internet services.

When asked if he is banishing NT for good, Arjun said "From the front-end we might use NT but for all our machine-critical missions like our billing applications, we will be using Unix."

Not wanting to sound too harsh, Arjun concedes "NT is an excellent product but it will be good enough for these machine-critical missions two years from now."

Does that mean that Bharti-BT will hop on to Windows NT then. Arjun is not sure. "We have not taken that decision yet. We might go for Windows NT. Anyway there is always 'interoperatability' between systems. But, right now we are going in for Unix."

Microsoft's Internet Customer Unit Director Meena Ganesh is furiously shaking her head in disapproval, eager to reel off a list of counter-claims. But we will come to her in just a few more lines.

First, over to Sun Microsystems's Industry Sales Director Ashok Kapoor.

"Anybody who is looking at becoming an ISP is looking for features in terms of scalability, reliability and solutions," Kapoor points out.

He explains "They want something that is stable and which has been running for some time. These features are provided by Unix."

What Kapoor is doing here is flaunting the long tradition of Unix servers. "Internet was born on the Unix platform and has a level of maturity that cannot be matched by NT," claims a senior technology officer at an Internet service company.

Kapoor claims "Windows NT has problems happening on it. The machine crashes or you have problems when it reloads. These things do happen to normal machines using Windows NT."

He unfolds a list of Indian ISPs that have already embraced Unix. The only two large national ISPs that have been in operation for some years now are the government-owned VSNL and ERNET. Both run Unix, Kapoor points out. According to him other heavyweights that have already decided to embrace Unix include MTNL, Bharti-BT, RPG Sprint and Wipro.

He adds "BPL is most probably going to go for Unix. We have not finalised the deal yet but it is nearly 90 per cent done. Tata Teleservices are also looking at Unix."

Microsoft's Ganesh is furious. She does not hesitate from alluding that Kapoor is lying!

"As far as Wipro is concerned they will go for Sun Microsystems as they have a strategic partnership with them. Wipro markets Sun's products after all. And as for other ISPs like BPL and Tata Teleservices, the deal has not been finalised yet. We are very much in the running. And if some people are telling you otherwise then they are lying," she declared.

Ganesh does not even take kindly to Arjun and Kapoor's comments on NT's performance abilities. If Kapoor can rattle off a list of companies in his support, so can she.

"If you see, world-wide most of the big telecom companies are using MCIS (computerese for NT) for their global ISP operations," Ganesh added as a footnote to a faxed list that had 48 companies on it. These included British Telecom, Singapore Telecom, Global Telecom, France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom.

Kapoor had, however, asked a question designed to deflate any such list that Microsoft would have. "Why is (Microsoft-owned) Hotmail running on Unix?"

The point is simple. Can sites with phenomenal hit rates like Yahoo and Hotmail depend on NT?

Ganesh defends "I cannot reveal anything about Hotmail's operations. But it is now slowly moving towards a Windows platform. The fact that all these telecom companies with thousands of subscribers are using Windows NT is proof enough of the scalability of the product."

Ganesh goes on to mention SatyamOnline in particular. It is the most visible and perhaps the fastest moving private ISP in the country. "Satyam has gone in totally for Windows NT for their machine-critical operations. I consider machine-critical missions to be those that involve putting a subscriber on to the Internet. And those servers at SatyamOnline are running on Windows NT."

Kapoor does not fully agree. "Earlier, Satyam was an email provider. Their email servers were running over Unix systems. Now they have extended the Internet over those systems. They are providing MCIS to their franchisees in order to help them connect to SatyamOnline easily. But for critical applications like billing, they might be using Unix."

Kapoor also claims that Sterling's ISP venture is depending on Unix platforms for its machine-critical missions like billing and RADIUS authentication.

Once again, it is Ganesh's turn to disagree. "Sterling is using Windows NT totally for all its applications. Front-end and backend and all its machine-critical missions."

That is the score till now. For the final tally, wait till we return with a follow-up report in a few weeks. That is when the dust settles a bit.

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