Microsoft Corp. is to announce today that a benchmarking test proved its Windows NT operating system could process the Internet banking transactions of a top-15 U.S. bank.

Because of reliability questions, Windows NT is usually not deployed to support mission-critical applications at large banks.

Microsoft conducted the test at the bank's request, said John Grispon, worldwide banking industry manager for the Redmond, Wash., company. Microsoft is "happy to do similar tests for all banks," he added.

Mr. Grispon declined to name the bank for which the test was conducted, saying it had requested anonymity.

In the test, Microsoft ran Corillian Corp.'s Voyager eFinance application software under the Windows NT operating system on four Hewlett-Packard servers. The configuration processed more than eight million on-line banking transactions in 72 hours, maintaining a response time of less than five seconds for more than 98% of the transactions, Microsoft said.

The system, which used the bank's data, executed an average of 31.5 transactions per second, showing that it could manage as many as 4,800 simultaneous users, though it was tested with only 500 to 700 concurrent users, Microsoft said.

The results were released to the bank. Since then, Corillian has signed a series of agreements with that bank to deploy its software on the NT platform, said Matt Cone, chief marketing officer of Portland, Ore.-based Corillian.

"This was definitely the largest test of our system," Mr. Cone said. "For us to secure the bank's business, we had to show the scalability of our platform."

Microsoft has been on a mission to make NT palatable to large banks wanting to deploy it for heavy-duty applications. In mid-1997 it conducted a "Scalability Day" event in New York to show that NT could process one billion automated teller machine transactions a day.

With Windows 2000, the next generation of NT, due out early next year, Microsoft is reviving its showcasing of the system's reliability. The company is "making sure anything we do with Windows 2000 fits the requirements for the largest banks in the world," Mr. Grispon said.

Tom Bittman, a vice president responsible for NT research at GartnerGroup, expressed skepticism that Microsoft would be able to penetrate large banks.

He questioned the methodology of the benchmarking test. "They probably partitioned the data base and ran lower-level volumes across four servers simultaneously, rather than on one server," he said.

Anyway, Windows NT's scalability is becoming a moot issue, since scalability in general is improving fast, Mr. Bittman said. "We believe scalability - of operating systems and databases - in the next two years is a nonissue," he said.

But Windows NT's stability and reliability remain issues, he said. "NT is not as stable as other systems and has a number of issues in terms of memory leaks," Mr. Bittman said.

GartnerGroup knows of some banking companies that have stable NT environments, he said, but these generally have strong on-site help from Intel Corp. and Microsoft.

"A number of companies are reporting that they have to reboot their NT systems once every two days," he said.

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