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NT Evaluation

copyright 1997, Rex Ballard

While heavily promoted as a general purpose server, Microsoft Windows NT comes up short in all these catagories:

  • Features
  • Ease of Use
  • Performance
  • Cost/Benefit
  • Overall
  • NT Evaluation


    What's included is minimal compared to Linux or BSD, both of which come with development kits, production aids, diagnostic support, and a number or services and features that NT hasn't even thought about. Even with the NT Resource kit added, NT still offers about 5% of the features and benifits of Linux or BSD. If I spend as much as $50,000 and purchase multiple servers I can get almost the same functions on NT that come standard with Linux and BSD.

    Ease of Use:

    All support and management of the "standard" NT system must be done from the console. Many vendors offer additional packages such as Citrix, and PC-Anywhere which provide limited functionality. Linux comes with X11 support on every server, which means that hundreds of servers can be controlled from a single low-cost workstation.

    NT has very little support for scripting, which means that one must use operators to performe repeated sequences of operations would be scripted and put under control of the crontab of Linux or BSD.


    While there are benchmarks that show that NT is capable of outperforming Linux on specialized configurations in a single service environment, Linux memory management makes it much more effective at running many different services on a single machine and running specialized software. In addition, the kernel design makes it easier to support more real users (as compared to simulated loads).

    NT has a very limited upward migration path, and a very high "low end". A reliable NT Server configuration requires nearly 4 times the RAM, 3 times the DISK, and Twice the CPU speed to get a reliable baseline configuration compared to Linux or FreeBSD.

    At the top end, Linux/BSD applications can be migrated to UNIX servers such as the Sun Enterprise 10000 or the IBM SP/2 or the HP 9000 X series with as many as 128 processers per machine. The RISC/UNIX configurations typically deliver twice the performance of the eqivalent Intel/NT machines on a per/processor basis.

    The fundamental design principles of NT make dynamic clusters such as those used on HP, Sun, IBM, and Linux clusters (PVM and MPI) impractical on NT clusters.

    IBM was able to build the 14th fastest computer using netfinities and Linux, during a computer show. At another show, an informal clustering of several beowulf clusters resulted in the fastest computer ever built in a single room.

    Specialized Linux clusters used for cracking encryption codes have exceeded the capacity to measure their speed.

    NT provides clustering, but the memory management of multiple processes limits the ability to dynamically configure and rebalance configurations. It's possible that in a benchmarke based on fixed and dedicated services, that NT could outperform Linux or BSD or UNIX, but such a benchmark would have to be artificially constrained and would have little resemblance to any real-world loads.


    For $1000 NT, offers very little in terms of "extras". IIS and File Server are very basic. Additional support for e-mail, newsgroups, chat groups, multimedia, and relational database is substantially more expensive and often results in the requirement for additional servers. In addition, the costs of the client access licenses can get out of hand very quickly. A system capable of providing 1000 users with web service, discussion groups, e-mail, file sharing, and relational database access could require 25 servers, thousands of dollars in extra software, and 25,000 client access licenses.

    If these 1000 users are exclusively internal users you can use seat licenses, but if you are also providing internet access to external users, the cost can get out of hand quickly.

    Development costs for custom applications also quickly get out of hand. Even after allowing significantly more time for development than for a UNIX application, NT applications have characteristically run 9 times more expensive than UNIX. Gartner surveys indicated that most NT projects were 800% over budget and 500% late.

    Microsoft has cited TCO estimates prognosticated months after the release of NT 4.0 claimed that NT would be less expensive on a TCO basis than the combination of a recently released NetWare 4.0 server and a second UNIX application server.

    Linux, BSD, and UNIX all have the ability to provide SMB, DHCP, and WNS (WINS) services similar to those offered by NT, without requiring a separate dedicated server.


    Overall, NT as a server has turned out to be a big dissappointment. It seems like those who are like NT are only comparing it to other versions of Microsoft or to Novel Netware servers. Many of those who are strong advocates of NT seem to be unfamiliar with any form of UNIX and haven't even successfully implemented Linux. This would be like having your plumber trying to fix your teeth.