No more late nights out with the boys, no more risky career decisions, and most importantly - settled relationships. That's right, Data General hits the big three-oh today, and like all who hit that birthday, the company faces a period of introspection and that burning question - what am I going to do with the rest of my life?
The year has not started well for the company. DG's first quarter results were described by chief executive Ron Skates as "disappointing". A small profit compared badly with its record fiscal 1997 results just three months earlier.
The company expects this to be a blip in the turnaround of the past two years, and is confident that profits will return in earnest as the storage product range completes its transition to the Fibre Channel standard, and grabs a share of the exploding Unix and NT shared storage market.
Independence may also be under threat. DG was nominated by research company IDC in its annual look-ahead for the midrange market as one of the three vendors likely to be taken over by a bigger player. (For the curious, the others were NCR and very presciently, Digital). Financial analysts give the shares a 'hold to buy' rating, partly on the back of a takeover possibility.
A bout of rumours in March that Dell was about to leap vertically into the NT market and buy up DG actually turned into a deal to OEM DG's storage products from its Clariion subsidiary. That story may not be closed, although the company claimed it never had any substance.
DG has managed to get to its thirtieth birthday and 1998 still independent, unlike many of its counterparts from the early days such as Digital, Wang, or Tandem.
In the NT world it has established a niche for itself in the $50,000-plus server market, fighting it out with NCR and Digital across Europe for the number one slot. IDC gives it 25 per cent of the UK $50-$100,000 NT server market and 56 per cent of the $100,000-plus sector.
In the Unix space, it is targeting a niche market, along with Sequent, for Numa parallel technology. Both came up with an offering ahead of the big players and are now reaping lucrative benefits.
In March the company said sales of its Aviion NT and Unix servers overall were growing at 10 per cent, following around 30 per cent growth last year.
Last September DG offered the 55 year-old president and chief executive Ron Skates significant financial rewards for his service and to encourage him to stay around another three years.
He presided over the early 1990s' rationalisation that cut the workforce from 17,000 employees down to around 5,000. It saved the company but was, according to Skates, the hardest thing, emotionally, he's ever had to do in business.
UK managing director Gerry Crook joined DG in 1991 as the rationalisation was beginning. That year 90 per cent of the salesforce changed or disappeared.
"It was not an easy transition and of course the restructuring didn't take any account of the imminent impact of Bill Gates and Windows on the market. But we managed to ride it out, not let go of the good people and retain the customer base," said Crook.
Despite its age DG remains nimble - its strategy of starting up subsidiary companies as internal venture companies, free to pursue their strategy but supported by common resources, has so far helped build a storage unit on the verge of a major market share and a futuristic Internet hardware business.
"It is fantastic having this portfolio of subsidiary companies at different stages of development. It helps to diversify the risk," said Craig Heim, marketing manager of the Thiinline unit, which focuses on 'thin servers', even for the home market.
On the downside, it remains a relatively small player in a consolidating industry. Few analysts believe it can make 40, or even 35, still as an independent company.
Gerry Crook admits that DG, particularly with its enterprise implementation and services capabilities, would be "a very attractive buy for some in the industry" but insisted DG was not looking.
It also remains a company very dependent on the industry, with all its OEM and contract manufacturing deals, so that a major downturn in the market might prove too much.
Gerry Crook insists that its survivability in the past and in the future has been through loyal customers. "We still have customers who use their Novas [original DG minis] and many who had Novas 30 years ago and now have Aviions ... we are not a jellybean company like Dell or Compaq. We OEM or we install enterprise wide systems - that lack of focus is where a lot of our competition has fallen down," he said.
Seemingly the party is not over yet for DG. Celebrate ye while you may.
THIRTY YEARS OF THE IT INDUSTRY Data General was formed in 1968 by some Digital engineers who saw a market opportunity in Digital's slow entry into the 16-bit world.
They started with the Nova. This was the first minicomputer based on integrated circuits and the 15-inch printed circuit board, eventually to become a vendor standard.
By using the integrated circuit costs were cut and maintenance made easier. The Nova was able to sell for under $10,000 when Digital's PDP-8 at the time cost $60,000.
In its time 50,000 Novas were shipped and the last users are still being weaned off them. It was followed by the Eclipse, a more commercial minicomputer development of the Nova.
By 1980 the 32-bit generation was taking off. DG's candidate was the Multipurpose Virtual (MV), to compete with Digital's Vax. The operating system (AOS/VS) and applications developed on it helped DG make significant revenue.
The missed opportunity - the DG/One. The first truly portable IBM compatible PC based on a Cmos processor and brought to market in 1984. Less than 50,000 were ever sold, being somewhat ahead of their time and suffering from the poor quality of LCD screen technology in those days.
Aviion servers and Clariion storage - the two money earners of the 1990s. The switch from Motorola to Intel chips and adding NT to DG/UX as its operating system offerings in 1995 proved to be inspired decisions. Clariion storage brings in one-third of total revenues, mostly from OEM deals with companies like Hewlett-Packard, Bull, Silicon Graphics, and recently announced, Dell.
Thiinline - the next set of futuristic ideas that may prove to be ahead of the market. Includes servers dedicated to Web hosting at very fast speeds and high capacities, and a concept for putting a wireless network hub in homes and small businesses for Lan and Internet access.
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