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Microsoft Hotmail based on Unix
an investigative report by ALC Press

Marc Robson from Novell brought the following article to our attention. The site that the article is stored on causes many browsers to display a JavaScript error so it is reproduced here with our comments and highlighting added. The article first appeared in Network News, 22-April - 1998. Again, this is an article published in Networking News - it is not an article written by ALC Press.

Solaris calls Hotmail shots for Microsoft

Microsoft has decided to get the hots for Sun and is using Solaris to run its acclaimed Hotmail web-based e-mail service instead of NT.

The software giant has attempted to exchange the Sun/Solaris infrastructure of Hotmail with NT since buying it in December 1997. However, the demands of supporting 10 million users reportedly proved too great for NT, and Solaris was reinstated.

In a leaked report, sources close to Hotmail said: "... its whole mail server infrastructure is Solaris. NT couldn't handle it. On the web server, they're running MP Pentiums and Apache on FreeBSD. They're moving to Solaris for threads. The engineering team did its best to run NT - and failed. The issue's being escalated."

Hotmail is running Apache's 1.2.1 web server which is not available for NT due to technical difficulties. A statement on Apache's website states: "The road to Windows NT has not been a pretty one. Several attempts have been made, both by Apache Group members and outside folks, but due to a lack of stability and a clear consensus on how to manage a true cross-platform development project, NT is not yet a standard platform supported by Apache."

Microsoft is currently recruiting engineers for Hotmail, but NT specialists need not apply. Hotmail's website lists vacancies for an operations software engineer and a QA engineer - and the common requirement is for Unix experience.

Judy Gibbons, director of the Microsoft Network, was unaware of the hardware behind Hotmail, but said: "We looked at all the on-line mail services and Hotmail was far and away the best. It has the most proven and scalable architecture."

We asked the Hotmail folks about the hardware and software platforms as well as the number of Hotmail users. Here's how they responded.

Dear Hotmail User,

Due to issues of company security and corporate privacy, we are unable to disclose to our user the specifics of our architecture and set up. Issues of email volume and load also considered confidential.. We can let you know currently we have been approaching over 15.8 million on our users.

Hotmail Technical Support

Since the Hotmail folks wouldn't provide any information, we decided to have a look at the site using standard Unix-based TCP/IP tools. Sure enough, they're running Unix, using qmail for smtp email and Apache for their web servers.
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