In a total overhaul of its server strategy, Siemens-Nixdorf (SNI) announced that it will standardise on Intel's IA-64 architecture and Sun's Solaris Unix system.
In return, Sun will incorporate 'Reliability Availability and Scalability' (RAS) technology from SNI into Solaris to increase its robustness for high end enterprise applications.
The move is one made for the sake of standards rather than performance - SNI does not expect IA-64/Solaris to catch up with all aspects of its current Mips/Reliant Unix combination until 2002 - and will require a major migration path for users of all three SNI server lines.
"As we near the next century, we expect that the Solaris/IA-64 will establish itself as the de facto standard for high performance enterprise server technology," said Robert Hoog, head of SNI's Open Enterprise Computing line of business.
The German computer maker will move all its server systems to IA-64 chips, initially Merced. The move will include its Primergy servers, already Intel based; the proprietary BS2000 mainframes; and the RM servers, currently based on Mips Risc processors - another loss to the dwindling Mips camp.
The RM servers will move from SNI's own Reliant Unix, whose RAS features will be incorporated in Solaris, to the Sun system, which will become SNI's standard Unix OS.
The first IA-64/Solaris systems from SNI will appear in the second half of 1999, and by 2002 all server lines will have standardised on this combination.
According to Jim Guilmart, Senior vice president of worldwide marketing, Siemens-Nixdorf made the decision to select the IA-64 architecture and drop Mips more than six months ago. It then negotiated with "all the providers out there" about the best Unix operating system to go with the chip. The details of the deal with Sun were worked out over the past 90 days.
Guilmart said that one of the factors that swung SNI was Sun's willingness to build in parts of the Reliant technology into Solaris, providing a migration path for users of the RM servers. SNI was also attracted to the large number of applications available for Solaris.
The decision to opt for IA-64/Solaris means a major migration in all three server lines. Mips based RM servers, running Reliant Unix, will coexist with new Intel based RMs until at least 2002, by which time SNI estimates that the new platform will have caught up with Mips/Reliant Unix in performance and in support for features such as clustering.
In its BS2000 mainframe line, SNI currently offers systems based on IBM S390 compatible processors from Fujitsu, as well as some models based on Mips processors. Both will, in time, move to IA-64 though timescales are probably longer than for RM.
In the PC server field, the plans are less clear. On its Intel based Primergy servers, SNI currently offers a range of operating systems including NT, Novell Netware and SCO Unixware. Guilmart said that SNI will continue shipping Unixware for the time being. "We ship a fair amount of low end, PC-class servers with Unixware," he said.
But he added that SNI sees Unixware mainly in the shrinkwrapped Unix market, not in the enterprise space. Guilmart said that a complete move to Solaris, away from SCO, was entirely possible. Already, SNI has started shipping Solaris for Intel on some of its Primergy systems.
This appears to be a step back from SNI's earlier stance on Unixware. Earlier this year, SNI was one of several server vendors endorsing the new Unixware 7.
SNI now faces the heavy task of migrating its customer base. For its BS2000 mainframes, it has developed an emulation technology called Object Code Translation (OCT), which allows applications written for its Fujitsu based systems to run on Mips machines. A version of the same technology will be used to run BS2000 applications on Merced.
For the RM family, SNI claims that "most" applications written for Reliant Unix on Mips will run on the new IA-64/Solaris platform after recompilation. For other applications, SNI promises Object Code Translation to create a compatible runtime environment.
The deal with SNI is the second big win for Sun this month. Three weeks ago, Fujitsu selected Solaris for its Intel based Unix servers. Like Siemens-Nixdorf, Fujitsu had formerly been a supporter of SCO's Unixware. NCR signed up for Solaris earlier this year.
With NCR, Fujitsu and SNI, Sun can now boast three major server vendors as OEMs for its forthcoming 64-bit Solaris for IA-64. Other vendors competing with Sun for the 64-bit Unix on Intel marketplace are Hewlett-Packard, SCO and Digital.
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