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Pushing Tin

Once upon a time, I interviewed the Unisys Managing Director, Brian Hadfield for Computer Weekly and asked him if there ever might be a time when Unisys would consider a Linux alternative to Windows on its flagship ES7000 SMP Servers. At the time I received a reply that still reminds me of a classic Jack Nicholson quip, “I’d rather stick needles in my eyes” and left, with a strong impression, confirmed by Brian that, “Unisys has bet the farm on Windows.”

When I read, this month, that Unisys had announced support for Linux, a smile crossed my face. After all, like the announcement that NASA is to use one of the world’s biggest Linux-based supercomputers, a 1000 GB, 20* 512 processor system to help revive its shuttle missions after the 2003 Columbia disaster and rumours, that
Sun Microsystems will be soon be revealing a Linux port of their Sun Ray Server it’s only more evidence that Linux is increasingly finding a comfortable niche at the higher-end of computing, where only three years ago, companies such as Hewlett Packard, IBM, Sun and Unisys might have dismissed the very idea of Penguins at the top.

Unisys are of course saying that the decision reflects “customer interest in using the open-source operating system in big data centres”, and that it is working with Linux Novell and Red Hat to provide the Operating System on the ES7000 platform, which is most commonly associated as the living, breathing proof that Windows delivers well at the top end of the Server market. While Microsoft might not be too pleased at having to share its perfect romance with another partner, Unisys stated position is "Our enterprise customers are demanding industrial-strength Linux solutions and we are responding in a revolutionary way," according to Joe McGrath, president and chief operating officer for the company.

Mind you, at this point, I have to declare my interests, in that having written a number of ES7000 customer case studies, I’ve found that many very large organisations, such as the Skipton Building Society, have found that mixing Windows and the Unisys ES700 produces impressive results and cost-savings with Linux rarely appearing in the conversation. The apparent fact that Unisys, rather than IBM “Enterprise customers are now demanding industrial-strength Linux solutions”, suggests that the industry is finally experiencing the evolutionary impact that Linux watchers have been predicting, since my first interview with Brian Hadfield back in 1999.

This decision is not a signal that a rippling introduction of Linux Servers will immediately push Windows from its position at the top of the ES7000 food-chain. After all, the company claims that making Linux available on the Intel processor-driven ES7000 platform will actually compete with proprietary UNIX servers, which may offer some comfort to Microsoft, which claims that the evidence suggests Linux victories are at the expense of other flavours of UNIX, rather than Windows. None-the-less, and like Sun, with Solaris, the writing is firmly on the wall and thanks to aggressive campaigning by IBM and Hewlett Packard, it’s likely that an increasing number of customers will start making the price, performance comparisons that are pushing Microsoft on to the defensive.

The ES7000 had represented the Wintel alliance and its technology at its strongest and purest but market forces or simple common sense have now gatecrashed the love affair between the companies and while William Shakespeare had nothing to say about Linux or Windows, he did write “Then must you speak of one who loved not wisely but too well.”


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