The Future of Online Transaction Processing, Part 1: TPF vs. MTS
by Jeff Robinson

In case you've been living in a cave the last few years, then you probably haven't heard that some of the giants of computer industry have been making serious inroads into the high volume online transaction processing (HVOLTP) market. Yes, this is the same niche market that used to be dominated by IBM's TPF family of products. One of the latest and most publicized attempts is being made by Microsoft, the world's leading software development company, and was recently showcased by the none other than Bill Gates -- Microsoft's illustrious leader and the world's richest man.

The Big Event
The event was called Microsoft's Scalability Day and it occurred on May 20, 1997 in New York City. Using technology which provides interoperability between Windows NT Server-based applications and existing mainframe-based applications built with CICS, Microsoft demonstrated an Automated Teller Machine system simulation that handled one billion transactions per day (or 11,000 withdrawals and deposits per second) configured to support 1.6 billion customers.

The benchmark system used a setup of 20 Compaq servers running Microsoft NT Server 4.0 and Microsoft SQL Server 6.5. Each server was connected to four Intel Pentium Pro workstations running at 200 Megahertz. To drive the simulation of over a billion customers, another 20 Compaq Servers (each with its own unique customer database) were used which ran continuously for a 24-hour period. The simulation included global distributed transactions for customers as near as the Eastern U.S. to as remote as Bangkok and London.

A Microsoft Press Release stated that the successful One Billion Transactions Per Day benchmark demonstrates that "personal computer hardware and software have evolved to deliver levels of performance previously a much lower cost than traditional enterprise systems." Microsoft reported that the hardware and software for their One Billion Transactions Per Day exercise cost 5 million U.S. dollars.

MTS - the Product behind the Press
The actual product behind Microsoft's big showcase is MTS, Microsoft Transaction Server, which is a new component of the Windows NT Server transaction integration technology. MTS 1.0 was released on Dec. 10, 1996 and promised to make "it possible for many more organizations to build distributed business solutions that are reliable and scalable...". Since that time, a new release of MTS, version 1.1, has been made available to the public.

MTS uses open standards and supports the following transaction processing protocols: SNA LU 6.2, XA, OLE Transactions, and Transaction Internet Protocol. Microsoft's hope is that this variety will "enable businesses to deploy Transaction Server applications that integrate with UNIX and mainframe-based systems." In fact, Microsoft is already touting MTS as a great way integrate Windows NT Server systems with existing CICS or IMS technology. Will TPF systems be targeted next?

As is the style with giant software companies, Microsoft had already secured the support of over 80 technology vendors and software companies before the product ever hit the market. Supporters included the likes of MicroFocus, Sybase Inc., and Informix Software Inc. This pre-release support has certainly given MTS an extremely good deal of momentum and publicity.

Advantages Over TPF
MTS has several key aspects that make it a serious threat to the future of TPF:

MTS offers a three-tiered, client-server solution MTS provides for cross-platform integration MTS ships with a set of development tools which allows for easy and simple application inter-operation with minimal developer training. MTS provides customers with a visual application work environment within the Windows NT platform MTS uses a 2-phase commit between the Windows NT Server and the mainframe which allows the entire transaction to be rolled back if any portion of the processing fails. MTS client applications can immediately harness applications already written for Visual Basic 5.0, Java, or SQL Server. MTS is able to enjoy greater press exposure due to the Microsoft name association.

Disadvantages of MTS
MTS is a new product and its reliability beyond the 24-hour benchmark simulation has yet to be proven. MTS may not be suitable for the type of real-time, continuous, minimal down-time environment of an airline or financial TPF system. A billion transactions a day sounds great, but Microsoft has neglected to talk about response time. Is it three seconds or three minutes... The benchmark simulation and results did NOT account for delays/problems in communication networks or other externally, interconnected systems.

And the Winner Is...
You be the judge; stop by the ACP*TPF Today Discussion forums and let us hear your opinion. The Web address is "". For more information on MTS, check out its website at "". The IBM TPF website is at".