The end of life for Windows NT 4.0 arrives at the end of June and Microsoft Corp. refuses to extend its support for the platform even a day longer. However, for many financial services firms and other enterprise customers, the platform is still referred to in present tense.
According to one integration consultant with clients among New York City banks, several of the nations largest financial institutions can be counted in the list of NT 4.0 holdouts.
"Banks are very conservative in their upgrade plans," said the consultant who requested anonymity. "A lot of the technologies they use do not exploit Windows 2000 or 2003. They use Java and middleware that Microsoft doesnt use, so most of the improvements that Microsoft made in 2000 and 2003 are useless to them."
Chris Musto, vice president of research at Watchfire GómezPro, of Waltham, Mass., which rates online financial institutions such as banks and brokers, described the discontinuance as more of a "headache."
"Its not like the entire infrastructure of a financial services company totally depends on NT 4.0. Going to more recent platforms is part of Microsofts plan to get into financial services," Musto said.
The move off of NT 4.0 will involve rewriting software and porting it to the newer operating system. "Rewrites are seldom on the top of an IT groups to-do list," he added.
Microsoft announced on Monday that the BITS nonprofit banking consortium will provide security updates for an extended, yet undetermined period, that will extend the time for financial institutions to migrate their systems to more recent versions of Windows. BITS considers this concession from Microsoft a victory for its members.
The number of institutions, or departments still on the platform isnt known and the companies are secretive.
"Our front-end still works with NT 4.0 but I dont know anyone who is still using it." Bon Trade Solutions Robert Colucci, Director of Trade Support, remarked, Bon Trade, a Brooklyn-based software publisher, offers turn-key ASP trading and middle-office solutions for the brokerage industry. The products integrate into legacy systems.
Colucci said that the Bon Trade platform used to run on NT 4.0, which he considered very stable. The companys products now run on Windows 2000 Server or Windows 2003 Server. "Our service was upgraded a long time ago," Colucci added, "The end of the NT 4.0 lifecycle wont affect us."
Colucci understood the reticence of some companies to leave a well-understood and stable platform. He recalled running a proprietary trading firm with NT 4.0 while many of his competitors were using the Windows 98 server. His platform, he said, seldom crashed while his competition had numerous technical issues. He concluded, nostalgically, "NT 4.0 wasnt very user-friendly but it was incredibly stable."
For Chief Architect and President Creative Sciences Systems Inc. Jacob Dreyband, of Cupertino, Calif., NT 4.0 "was good at the time, probably one of the best, but its difficult for any company to maintain multiple sources."
His company, which produces high volume real-time financial trading systems and integration middleware for manufacturers, distributors and trading partners, tested its latest releases on NT 4.0 for compatibility until last month, when they stopped because it was not a productive use of their time.
"NT is an outdated relic," Dreyband said. "Microsoft has to move forward and produce new software." He suggested that its also time for customers still relying on NT 4.0 to go through the upgrade path to Server 2003.
However, some banks are eyeing making a more significant transition, towards a Unix-based alternative, said the integration consultant. The driver is security.
"A lot of banks are moving to Linux or are keeping their [Sun Microsystems Inc.] Solaris or [Hewlett-Packard Co.] HP-UX or [IBM Corp.] AIX up-to-date," the consultant continued. "Banks are freaked out about virus and security issues."