Drugstore.com: Anybody home?

On February 25, when the latest sure-to-drive-Wall Street-mad Web business, Drugstore.com, opened, nobody could get in. Well, maybe not quite nobody, but it did take all day for some of us to log on to the Redmond- based online pharmacy. On the first day of business, Web surfers looking for online shampoo, first aid, and herbal offerings were turned away with "server busy" error messages.

And now your answer to the $20,000 question—yes, Drugstore.com uses NT servers—even though UNIX-using Amazon.com owns 46 percent of it.

The knock on Windows NT has always been that it can't scale to demand even though it serves up some of the Web's most trafficked sites, including Bellevue-based ABCnews.com. Microsoft tried hosting MSN e-mail on a farm of NT servers, but after a series of system delays and server failures, the company spent $400 million to acquire Hotmail, a Web-based system that now hosts most MSN consumer e-mail accounts. Hotmail runs on UNIX servers, as do most other large Web sites.

Drugstore.com CEO Peter Neupert was the Microsoft executive in charge of Internet strategy during the MSN e-mail fiasco last year, and nobody at his new venture will lay blame for last week's delays on the suspect servers. "We're just having tremendous first-day volume, tons of people coming to the site," said Drugstore.com spokesperson Debby Wilson (also formerly of Microsoft). "We are totally prepared for server capacity. There are some other technical issues that we're working on right now to make sure the doors are open for everybody. We expect that this minor glitch will be resolved quickly." And sure enough, by day's end we were free to buy our Viagra online.

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