Microsoft Windows Server System
Customer Solution Case Study
/ / Information Platform Picks Windows over UNIX, Cuts Cost 75 Percent, Ensures Growth
Country:United States
Industry:Media & Entertainment; Financial Services
Customer Profile
Capital IQ, based in New York City, has more than 1,000 employees and provides high-impact information solutions to more than 1,000 leading financial institutions, advisory firms, and corporations.
Business Situation
Capital IQ needed to develop its information-services platform quickly and cost-effectively to attract first-round financing.
The company chose to build its solution on Microsoft® Windows Server System™integrated server software including Microsoft SQL Server™ 2000 database.
Initial time to market of three months
Platform developed for 75 percent less than cost of UNIX
Updates every six months are competitive advantage
Upgrade path ensures future growth
Ability to find and grow development staff / “Windows Server System enabled us to launch our business. If we had gone with Sun and Oracle, we wouldn’t be here today.”
William Murphy, Chief Technology Officer, Capital IQ
Capital IQ needed to develop its financial information-services platform quickly and cost-effectively to attract first-round investor financing.It rejected Sun and Oracle as too costly and time consuming. Instead, it built its platform—and its business—on Microsoft® Windows Server System™. The result is a highly sophisticated Web-based solution that includes Microsoft Office Excel® 2003 and Microsoft Office Outlook® 2003 plug-ins so that customers can take advantage of Capital IQ information directly in the desktop software they already use. Choosing Windows Server System saved the company millions of dollars in development and scalability expenses over the past six years. Microsoft technologies enable the company to issue updates more quickly than its competitors, to organize its development program more effectively, and ensure growth for years to come.


The year was 1999 and Capital IQ—then a startup investment bank—was seeking its first-round financing. The company was caught in a classic chicken-and-egg situation: Capital IQ needed a product to show investors, but it needed investment to develop the product.

The company strategy followed a classic route through this dilemma: Keep costs to an absolute minimum and develop the product as cost-effectively as possible. In Capital IQ’s case, the “product” was a distinctive financial-services information solution, one that combined global private and public capital market data and software applications to enable customers—investment bankers, fund managers, private investors, and the like—to draw deep market insights, generate better ideas, optimize financial relationships, and simplify their workflow.

William Murphy, Chief Technology Officer of Capital IQ, was the technical architect tasked with creating this system and getting the initial release into production in just three months. Murphy had experience with complex data systems, having served as a software architect at Sapient, the consulting and technology services firm. But Murphy also knew that the traditional solution to Capital IQ’s technology needs—a UNIX-based solution running an Oracle database on Sun operating system software—wouldn’t be possible for Capital IQ.

“We didn’t have much money in the bank then,” says Murphy. “We didn’t have the money for a Sun/Oracle solution, and above all,we didn’t have the time or the people to develop the solution on Sun/Oracle. We needed a faster, less expensive approach—without sacrificing the performance we needed to convince investors that we had staying power.”

Capital IQ was ultimately so successful with its information technology solution—called the Capital IQ Platform—that it jettisoned the investment-banking portion of its business plan, and it became an information-services provider. And Capital IQbecame so successful that the company was acquired by Standard & Poor’s, part of The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Today, Capital IQ provides high-impact information solutions to more than 1,000 leading financial institutions, advisory firms, and corporations. Capital IQ sits at the nexus of the financial services and media industries, enabling its parent company to further take advantage ofand profit from its existing stores of data by packaging that data in new ways that increase its value as business-intelligence information for customers.

And it all goes back to how Murphy and Capital IQ solved that initial challenge of wedding low-cost to high-performance in its initial product offering.


As a startup, Capital IQ's solution was to build its platform primarily by using Microsoft® technologies. The solution architecture is based on a Web environment running on Microsoft Windows Server System™ integrated server software, including the Microsoft Windows Server™2003 operating system, and Microsoft SQL Server™ 2000 database.

Classic n-Tier Architecture

The solution is built on a classic n-tier architecture, with separate presentation, application, and database tiers. “Abstracting the business logic away from the presentation logic allows for greater reusability and easier maintenance,” says Murphy. “This type of architecture scales to support some of the largest Web sites in the world and surpasses other technologies with record-breaking transaction processing capabilities.”

The solution was originally built on Microsoft ASP and COM+ technologies, and now is being migrated to Microsoft .NET Framework-based technologies over a two-year period.

“We chose to migrate to [Microsoft] .NET because of the significant benefits it can deliver from code reuse and developer productivity, through object-oriented programming,” Murphy explains. “Everything we do now is in .NET. But we appreciate the flexibility that .NET technologies give us to run new softwarealongside our existing code base, and to migrate on our own schedule. That’s the only way we could have moved to .NET and we would not have gotten that flexibility with any other development platform.”

Database Choice was “Crucial”

“Given the data-intensive nature of the Capital IQ platform, our choice of database was especially crucial,” advisesMurphy. The solution’s SQL Server database is 500 gigabytes in size and is growing at a rate of 20 to 25 percent per year. It includes more than 10,000 database objects, 5,000 stored procedures, and 1,000 tables. Data is retrieved using views, stored procedures, and dynamic SQL statements.

The database runs on an active/passive cluster of two eight-processor servers. Because the data forms the core intellectual asset of Capital IQ’s solution, the architecture uses SQL Server Replication Services to mirror the data in real-time to another active/passive cluster, in this case of two four-way computer servers. The computer servers are attached to CX600 disk arrays that can be easily expanded to increase storage capacity.

Capital IQ uses hundreds of applications to collect and process the financial data that it provides to customers. Those customers can also store their own proprietary financial information securely on the solution and use it together with Capital IQ’s data. To integrate both its own information and that of its customers into the Capital IQ database, the company uses SQL Server Data Transformation Services (DTS). “DTS is a core component of how we do things,” says Murphy. “It provides a consistent way to integrate data from a huge variety of sources.”

Capital IQ also uses its replicated secondary clusters in a read-only mode to support heavy load volumes.

Application and Presentation Tiers

The application tier is a combination of original, COM+ ASP code written withMicrosoft Visual Basic® 6.0 development system and newer, Microsoft ASPX code written using the Microsoft Visual Basic .NET and Visual Studio® .NET 2003 development systems. Visual Basic Scripting Edition and Visual Basic .NET wereused in ASP and ASPX pages to dynamically create the HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) for the Capital IQ Web site. These pages call COM+ and .NET-based components to retrieve content and then format that content for customers.

The presentation tier not only uses HTML througha Web browser, but also includes plug-ins for Microsoft Office System members, Microsoft Office Outlook® 2003 messaging and collaboration client, and Microsoft Office Excel® 2003 spreadsheet software. The plug-ins allow customers to use Capital IQ data directly in the same Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Excel applications they use every day. The plug-ins employ Web services and Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure sockets (HTTPS) to communicate with the Capital IQ Servers to pull neededinformation in XML into the customer’s desktop Microsoft Office software.

Production Environment

In addition to the database computer servers, the production environment consists of four Dell PowerEdge 2850 Web servers and four application servers of the same type. Microsoft Application Center Clustering manages load balancing and fault tolerance at the application level for the COM architecture. The Web and application servers are also split into two redundant clusters, allowing Capital IQ to upgrade the Web and application software frequently with no impact on customers.

The production environment is hosted at a third-party site and further replicated at five-minute intervals to a separate disaster-recovery site.


Thanks to Microsoft technologies, Capital IQ was able to develop its initial platform on time and for as little as 25 percent as much as the UNIX alternative. It gains competitive advantage by producing updates quickly and expects to have the scalability it needs to meet expanding business needs for years to come.

Cost of Development Cut 75 Percent

“Windows Server System enabled us to launch our business,” says Murphy. “If we had gone with Sun and Oracle, we wouldn’t be here today.”

That’s because the company was able to develop the original Capital IQ platform within its three-month timeline—“something we never could have done with another technology,” according to Murphy—and for as little as 25 percent of the cost of a Sun and Oracle solution. Murphy estimates his team developed the initial Capital IQ platform for significantly less than the cost of the UNIX-based alternative. The original Capital IQ platform was launched with total hardware and software costs that were less than that of a single SUN Server at that time. Since then, Capital IQ has continued to invest in the infrastructure as the user load has grown, and Murphy estimates that the percentage savings over a UNIX solution remains the same.

After its launch, Capital IQ has seen its customer base grow close to 100 percent per year and its total activity grow more than 200 percent per year, as customers have come to make increasing use of the system. Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server 2000 have given Capital IQ a cost-effective means to scale to support that increased business, saving the company what Murphy estimates is several million dollars compared tothe cost of building out a UNIX-based solution.

Rapid Updates Are Competitive Advantage

Capital IQ issues updates to the Capital IQ platform every six months—more frequently than the updates issued by its competitors, according to Murphy.

“Our platform is a living, breathing thing, not a static product,” saysMurphy. “Windows Server and .NET technologies enable us to get updates out the door quickly. That’s one of our biggest competitive advantages.Frequent updates mean that we can quickly roll out new support and services to our customers and respond to customer needs more quickly. We can get closer to our customers because of Microsoft technologies.”

Murphy cites what he calls “the relative simplicity” of the ASP.NET environment, as well as the code reuse and object orientation of the .NET Framework for enabling this benefit. Pre-built and reusable components have enabled Capital IQ to quickly develop and roll out increasingly sophisticated user-interface elements, for example.

Microsoft technologies have had an impact on other aspects of Capital IQ development as well, according to Murphy. For example, Murphy says, because the SQL Server integrated development environmenttools help to make SQL Server easier to work with than an Oracle database, most if not all of his developers can write SQL Server code, in contrast to his Oracle experience in which development of Oracle code was a stumbling block that held up rapid development of updates.

“Because all of our developers can work on the SQL Server database—they don’t have to be database specialists to do so—their work and their careerpaths aren’t as limited or as narrow,” says Murphy. “They can learn more, do more, and they’re more excited about working on the solution.”

Upgrade Path Ensures Scalability

Capital IQ is now exploring the use of Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Enterprise Edition running on Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Enterprise Edition for 64-bit Itanium-based Systems. A proof-of-concept is planned for late 2005, and Murphy says it is “a near certainty” that Capital IQ will upgrade to 64-bit Windows Server-based computing.

“Microsoft technologies give us the scalability we need today—and technologies such as SQL Server 2005 will give us the scalability we need for years to come,” says Murphy.

He also anticipates taking advantage of SQL Server 2005 features such as SQL Server Integration Services, which expands on the capabilities already provided through DTS.

“Our business continues to expand at a very high rate,” saysMurphy. “It’s great to know that Microsoft technologies will enable us to support that growth.”

Microsoft Windows Server System

Microsoft Windows Server System integrated server infrastructure software is designed to support end-to-end solutions built on the Windows Server operating system. Windows Server System creates an infrastructure based on integrated innovation, Microsoft's holistic approach to building products and solutions that are intrinsically designed to work together and interact seamlessly with other data and applications across your IT environment. This helps you reduce the costs of ongoing operations, deliver a more secure and reliable IT infrastructure, and drive valuable new capabilities for the future growth of your business.

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