SCO has announced a further new alliance with Intel and Compaq thatts struggle against NT for enterprise dominance. VNU Newswire investigates. will, in effect, make SCO Unixware the focus of efforts to build an Intel-based data centre solution for the mainstream. The agreement is a new expansion of the existing agreement between Intel and SCO to develop Unixware.
If it works, the deal will mean the emphasis for large systems will remain firmly on Unix rather than NT - in the short term at least. It also signals a deepening split in the Wintel alliance (see leader, page 28).
This will be a welcome relief for many companies that have only just recovered from moving to open systems in the first place, and who might have thought from all the hype surrounding NT in the past year that it was about to crush Unix to death.
However, is the Unixware project just a convenient stopgap while Microsoft plugs the deficiencies of NT on high-level processors? Or is it something that could stop NT in its enterprise tracks?
SCO and Intel, along with Compaq, Data General, ICL and Unisys, plan to plough millions of dollars over the coming year into making SCO's Unixware a full data centre operating system, with all the scalability, management features and security that former mainframe users demand. Some of the money will go on marketing, education and awareness, but the majority will be spent on engineering and improving Unixware's enterprise features.
Despite hype from Microsoft and partners suggesting NT's rise is inexorable, Intel's new alliance with SCO, and last year's agreement with Sun to port Solaris to Merced, do not indicate a company that believes NT is the only flavour of the future. The Wintel alliance seems to be showing the strain (see PC Week, 24 February).
This will be a comfort to some Unix users who have felt besieged by the wave of support for NT. Only last week, electronic design software house, Synopsys, abandoned its Unix-only strategy to announce chip design products for Wintel workstations. Synopsys may operate in a niche market, but its conversion was symbolic. It was one of the very few software companies that had stubbornly held out against Intel/NT, and its change of heart shows that - even in classic computer-intensive Unix workstation applications like chip design - NT is starting to make inroads.
It also shows why it was imperative for Sun to adopt the Intel architecture.
Sun's workstations are by far the most commonly used for Synopsys applications, and the ISV's switch of loyalties epitomises the threat Sun has been under from Intel/NT. All the main chip design suppliers have now ported to NT, robbing Unix of one of its most securely held strongholds.
Diane Worstman, director of Intel's workstation group, claimed Synopsys and other makers of tools that require heavy-duty computing power have been able to move to Wintel far more quickly than Unix supporters had believed possible.
However, NT is almost a red herring here. It has been carried along by its marketing hype and fast growth, but has often been riding on the coat tails of the Intel architecture. The Intel platform appeals because it is more readily available, application-rich and often cheaper than Risc.
Without Intel's move up the IT food chain into powerful workstations and, with Merced, into the data centre, it is arguable that NT would never have stepped out of its heartland of the departmental server.
This is why the agreements with Sun and SCO over Unix should scare Microsoft more than many NT supporters will allow. Intel's goal is to get into the data centre and have its chips inside the most vital computers in the organisation, across the territory now held by proprietary architectures and Risc/Unix. "Intel does not care what wins (NT or Unix)," commented Mary Hubley, research director at the Gartner Group, "as long as Merced does."
Hubley believes NT will not be ready for the enterprise as soon as Merced will. Although it is developing fast, she thinks the Microsoft operating system is not scalable to the level that large corporations will require, and IT directors in such sites still feel nervous about its robustness, maturity and security.
In this situation, Hubley believes, Intel will not wholly give up on NT, but "needs to decide which Unix will be best for Merced", so that the platform has a credible OS when it is launched. With OEMs due to receive samples this summer, the task is becoming urgent.
The logical choices are Solaris and Unixware. SCO has the greatest experience of building Unix for Intel platforms and has close relationships with many Intel server maker. It also has no hardware of its own to muddy the competitive waters. Solaris has the greatest installed base and market clout.
For Compaq, its role in the new SCO partnership may signal a distancing from the Unix variant it now owns, Digital Unix. Compaq servers and PCs are the largest platform for SCO Unix, but Compaq will not wish to scare off its newly acquired Digital base - although most analysts believe the Digital product will be phased out in the fairly near future.
The lesson for Microsoft will be to make NT an enterprise OS as rapidly as possible. Its key allies, including Compaq and Intel, have no wish to be beholden to a single OS supplier, and will actively pursue any software strategy that will guarantee sales of machines based on Merced and other Intel platforms. With even Sun lining up behind Merced, Intel is now in a far stronger position to dominate the enterprise than Microsoft.
Microsoft's marketing machine will not be enough on its own to assure success for NT in this Intel world. There is still corporate suspicion of Windows as a desktop, low-end OS, and companies that have invested heavily in moving to Unix will not convert again to NT without solid proof that it is functional, robust and likely to survive long term. SCO will be working on the same factors for Unixware, this time with Intel's money behind it.
Microsoft has the advantage of being a single powerful company with money and market clout to push its product, and if it moves quickly it can still take over the enterprise.
SCO, which with its lack of hardware revenue has always been dependent on the whims and politics of changing groups of industry partners, will always have to rely on others' dollars and their continuing support. However, at least its deal with Intel proves there is still a choice - and a race - in the enterprise space.
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