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Box Clever or Boxed In

When, at the end of January I predicted the appearance of a new Unisys ES7000 Server, I nicknamed ‘Fatbird’, I didn’t quite expect the company to plan a raid on the mid-range Server market to coincide with the arrival of Windows 2003.

I’m reminded that it’s almost exactly two years since I attended an analyst briefing at the Unisys ‘ASP 2000’ centre of excellence in Paris. It strikes me that at the time, the world was a rather different place, as the ES7000 was very much pitched towards what many of us believed might be the next ‘big thing’, the expanding ASP sector, which Unisys viewed as a natural home for its ‘Big Iron’ Windows Mainframe Servers.

The Uxbridge Patient

I’m sure that Unisys would rather forget about those days in Paris and at the time, the Meta Group’s cynicism over the company’s datacentre strategy. Today, the ASP 2000 Centre no longer exists and neither do most of the first-to-market ASPs, who saw there future disappear down a very expensive blind alley. Unisys has however persevered with its longer-term Windows Mainframe plan. Although the company appears, to me at least, to be rather more successful in shifting managed services than its highly specialised and expensive iron, it’s well placed to take advantage of the promised power to weight ration of Windows Server 2003, now adding the middleweight, ‘Aries’ and the larger ‘Orion’, modular, 4-to-32 processor systems; 'best with' Windows Server 2003 when it appears.

Unisys, unlike its more eclectic rivals, is more sensitive to ‘Penguin Creep’ in the midrange Server market, from different flavours of UNIX. Unlike Hewlett Packard and IBM, Unisys is entirely wedded to the future of Windows in the datacentre and the company, with its new spring Server collection, is now deploying variants of its powerful Cellular Multiprocessing (CMP) server technology, intent on capturing mid-range market-share with its expandable Windows Mainframes.

Not everyone is convinced by the news of the second coming, of Windows Server 2003. The Meta Group returns, once again to cast a shadow over Unisys’ bubbling enthusiasm for Windows. Rakesh Kumar is quoted as saying that Windows 2003 has no chance of squeezing UNIX out of the datacentre, commenting: "The lack of dynamic partitioning and virtualisation technology in Windows 2003 is a significant handicap." Even the Butler Group aren’t really convinced, with one analyst announcing “Windows 2003 does not start to catch up with Unix in terms of availability and manageability”, describing its failover clustering as more “junior” than UNIX. The most damming statement of all describing, HP-UX and Solaris systems as having made more progress than Windows 2003 in terms of being able to reconfigure servers without rebooting.

So where does this leave Windows Server 2003 on a ‘Big Iron’ platform. With the product still not available, all we have to go on are the analysts’ opinions, which suggest a confidence gap between what it promises and what it can actually offer in terms of TCO, scalability, reliability and raw processing power.

This leaves me with a sense of ‘Déjà vu’. It’s 2003 and Windows still appears to be struggling to match UNIX if you believe the analysts. This is a serious business for both Unisys and Microsoft, tied firmly to each other in a marriage of convenience in the face of intense competition in a market segment where both companies have still to establish a truly exploitable beachhead.

What evidence, I wonder, will encourage businesses to reject ‘Old Reliable’ UNIX to flirt with Unisys and its new big iron Servers on Windows 2003?

Will Windows ever find broad acceptance as true alternative to UNIX or will UNIX, which still refuses to die quietly, ultimately have the last laugh in the datacentre?

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