Up to the minute news on Sun's rivals

Compaq targets Sun with new workstations
Dataquest: Pentium Pro giving NT a foothold in Unix workstation market
Data General adds power to Aviion and Clariion
Comdex: Gates calls NT Microsoft's most strategic product
Intel warns of Q2 slump

Compaq targets Sun with new workstations

San Francisco (June 20, 1997) -- Billing it as an "earthquake in the Unix workstation world," Compaq has now expanded its Professional Workstation product line to include three models -- all of which seem squarely targeted at the low end of Sun's workstation market. This just weeks before the Houston PC maker announced plans to acquire parallel system maker Tandem Computers Inc. (See related story).

IDC analyst Keren Seymour calls Compaq's new Professional Workstation 6000 and 8000 models "good competitive technical products" that show that Compaq is "really serious about the workstation market."

According to Compaq's director of strategic marketing, Mark Linesch, the new workstations are the first Intel boxes with dual (533-megabyte-per-second) memory controllers, allowing them to post two to four times the bandwidth of other X86 offerings. Linesch hopes that with dual (133-Mbyte/s) PCI buses and the ability to scale up to four processors (8000 model only; the 6000 scales to two) his Wintel products will finally have the muscle to compete with more expensive RISC alternatives. He says, "we're delivering very compelling performance and, as you stack up the price, you really have to wonder."

In fact, Compaq boasts that its Workstation 6000 was able to complete the battery of Pro/E Bench97 performance tests in a "record-setting" time of 63 minutes (lower is better), compared to 77 minutes for the UltraSPARC-II. Interestingly, Compaq elected to cite the independently-clocked Pro/E magazine benchmarks for everyone else: citing scores for HP, Sun, and SGI. But when it came time to report its own results, Compaq opted for "in-house testing." The independent Pro/E magazine benchmark for the only Compaq machine it tested -- the Workstation 5000 -- was 101 minutes.

Pro/E magazine makes its benchmarking software available on its Web site, so any vendor can produce its own results. In fact, Sun says the Ultra 1300 has clocked 59 minutes in-house. Pro/E magazine editors, frustrated with the mixing and matching of their benchmark numbers, say they're now considering pulling the software from their site.

It may seem ridiculous for Compaq to challenge Sun head on in terms of performance. "In real application environments, when you're using very large application sets" RISC is the only option, says Sun's workstation product manager, Alex Rublowsky. With Intel, he adds, "the bus that goes to the processor is still 512 megabytes per second," while "a Sun workstation has up to 1.6 gigabytes per second."

Compaq may have committed the sin of exaggeration by calling the launch of its new technical workstations an "earthquake in the Unix workstation world," but there is no doubt that Intel is making inroads in a market that has traditionally been Sun's bread and butter.

According to Dataquest, (see below) the NT workstation market grew by 242 percent during the first quarter of this year, compared to 10 percent for the Unix workstation market. And in a recent edition of Microprocessor Report, editor-in-chief Linley Gwennap writes, "none of the RISC workstation vendors will admit it publicly, but all are positioning themselves to succeed in a world where Intel processors have taken over."

And with Compaq's latest offerings starting at $4,200 and $11,400 respectively, Sun is definitely taking notice.

The Compaq Professional Workstation 6000 and 8000 are available now. Both are being certified for Solaris, but they ship with NT 4.0. The Workstation 6000 supports up to two 266-MHz or 300-MHz Pentium IIs with 512 KB cache and up to 512 MB memory. The 8000 scales to four 200-MHZ Pentium Pros, 512 KB cache, and three gigabytes of memory.

--Robert McMillan, SunWorld

Dataquest: Pentium Pro giving NT a foothold in Unix workstation market

London (June 18, 1997) -- Thanks to the emergence of Windows NT-based workstations, the worldwide workstation market grew 30 percent in the first quarter this year, according to new research from Dataquest.

During the first three months of the year, workstation shipments totaled 259,612 units, compared with 199,128 in the first quarter of 1996. Of the units shipped, 195,442 were Unix workstations, while 61,384 were NT workstations, the report said. However, shipments of Unix-based workstations grew only 10 percent during the first quarter, while Windows NT-based workstations grew 242 percent.

Hewlett-Packard Co. shipped the most NT workstations of any vendor during the first quarter, with 22,898 units. Compaq Computer Corp. was the number-two vendor, shipping 17,811 units during the quarter.

Traditionally, the desktop PC and RISC processor-based Unix workstation markets have been separate entities, but with the introduction of high-end PC configurations running Windows NT, the line between the two markets is becoming blurred, according to Peter ffoulkes, director and principal analyst for Dataquest's Advanced Desktops and Workstations Worldwide program.

With the introduction of the Pentium Pro, Intel-based systems have been able to compete with entry-level RISC systems, ffoulkes said in a statement.

The fact that NT workstations are generally less expensive than their Unix counterparts is one of the reasons users are switching to NT so quickly, according to an analyst at International Data Corp.

However, while low prices are a strong incentive for users to switch to NT-based workstations, it is not the only factor users consider when deciding which workstation to buy, said Lone Poulsen, program manager for Unix, Client Server and Workstations at IDC in Copenhagen. "Price is a driving force," Poulsen said. However, other considerations include the fact that many users think NT will become a de facto standard in the corporate market, as well as the emergence of high-end graphics applications for NT, she said.

Users also believe that Windows NT workstations are easier to integrate with Windows 95 and other Microsoft applications already running in the enterprise, Poulsen said.

While IDC does not track NT workstation shipments by quarter as Dataquest does, Poulsen agreed that worldwide growth in the area was "very strong." However, she suggested that the 242 percent growth rate may be "a little high."

--Kristi Essick, IDG News Service, London Bureau

Data General adds power to Aviion and Clariion

Boston (June 10, 1997) -- Data General Corp. showed today that it is thinking bigger by adding more power to its line of Aviion servers and Clariion storage systems.

The Aviion AV 20000 server, Data General's first Intel-based system to use advanced NUMA (nonuniform memory access) technology, can scale from four to 32 processers, and is designed to handle future Intel enhancements for further expansion, said Linda Mentzer, vice president of Data General's Unix business unit.

The AV 20000 is based on Intel's Type II Standard High-Volume (SHV) server motherboards that each contain four Pentium Pro chips, four gigabytes of memory, 512 kilobytes of cache, and dual PCI I/O channels with 12 slots. They also feature the Scaleable Coherent Interface (SCI) interconnect. The servers can connect up to 100 terabytes of SCSI or Fibre Channel storage systems, Mentzer said.

The server will be targeted at the retail, telecommunications, health care, energy and financial services industries, said Bill Wilson, vice president of corporate marketing.

Initial shipments of the AV 20000, available with the DG/UX Unix operating system, have begun, officials said. Volume shipments are set to begin this summer, with prices beginning at $70,000 for an entry-level four-processor system, up to $866,000 at the high end for a 32-processor system with four gigabytes of memory.

"Data General wants to demonstrate to people that they can leverage the understanding about enterprise computing, including Unix, and to get these Intel pieces to scale up...that they can take smaller building blocks, two to four processers, and get a bigger system out of it," said Jean Bozman, a software analyst for International Data Corp. in Mountain View, CA.

Also today, Data General added to its RAID storage line by introducing the Clariion FC5000 series of Fibre Channel-based RAID storage systems. The FC5000 features Data General's Multidimensional Storage Architecture (MSA) for implementing storage systems across the enterprise. Companies can begin small and build their system as their business grows, said Larry Hemmerich, Clariion vice president and general manager. "You can add capacity, going from 10 discs and then scale up from there," Hemmerich said. "Fibre Channel allows that scaleability."

Data General is also providing an upgrade path from SCSI to Fibre Channel technology with the Series 3000 Fibre Channel attachment, which is available now. It works with the company's existing Series 3000 storage product to mix and match SCSI and Fibre Channel in one system.

Today's announcement was met with guarded optimism by some analysts. "This is good technology. They've followed through on the delivery of a product," said Robert Sakakeeny, an analyst with the Aberdeen Group in Boston. "Clariion is where Data General is making money now."

However, Aberdeen's Robert Dorin was a bit skeptical about the role of NUMA with Aviion. "The issue with NUMA is will it scale?" said Dorin, who believes more time will be needed to gain that measure. "It may very well scale. But you still need the proof."

--Ed Golden, IDG News Service, Boston Bureau

Comdex: Gates calls NT Microsoft's most strategic product

Atlanta (June 3, 1997) -- At 8:30 this morning, the overflow ballroom was already filling up with a crowd anxious to hear Microsoft Corp. CEO and Chairman Bill Gates deliver his Comdex keynote address, even if they could only watch him on a television monitor.

Gates' billions and the stunning success of his company have created a mystique that draws in the faithful, some of whom reportedly began lining up as early as five a.m. here at the Georgia World Congress Center.

In contrast to Gates' usual speeches -- which tend to focus on Microsoft product strategy and feature a demonstration -- this morning's talk had the potential to be something completely different. Gates was joined in a talk-show style format by Computerworld executive Gary Beach who promised to ask the Microsoft CEO some "tough questions."

Gates did not seem discomfited by subsequent queries, as he was asked to what he ascribed the growing popularity of the Windows NT operating system, and just how proud he was of the work the NT team has done.

Touching on a slightly more controversial topic, Beach asked Gates whether he agreed with the position taken by Lotus Development Corp. President Jeff Papows in yesterday's keynote. Papows called adherence to a pure, standard version of the Java programming language and operating environment the computer industry's last best hope for true applications portability.

While maintaining that Microsoft supports Java, Gates added, "It's a little strange to get religious about it." People should be able to choose between writing applications to "the lowest common denominator" -- presumably, standard Java -- and taking advantage of the features of a specific operating system, he said.

Some keynote attendees were less than impressed with Gates' weigh-in on the Java debate. "I think he really sidestepped the whole Java issue," said Kevin Hartwick, a PC specialist with Interstate/Johnson Lane, a brokerage firm in Charlotte, North Carolina. Hartwick said his company is interested in a universal standard for Java -- 100% Pure vs. Microsoft's tinkered-with version. And his company is currently evaluating Sun's JavaStations as desktop alternatives to PCs as a way to cut down on support and administration costs. "One of our corporate visions is to really get away from Microsoft in general, if that's possible," he said. "We are only a 1,200-user firm and our support contract for Windows software alone is [US]$250,000."

James Ivey, vice president of First National Bank in Milledgeville, Georgia, said rewriting bank applications in Java would be well worth the trouble, if the result was programs that run cross-platform. "Gates didn't seem to want to talk about it, but for us, if we could find something more universal in a language, things would run a lot smoother," Ivey said.

Another attendee spoke highly of Gates' vision for a "digital nervous system" that features a robust operating system platform forming the core of the front and back-ends of an enterprise network. "I think his concept of shooting for interoperability is sound," said the IS administrator, who asked not to be named. "You cannot build a 60-story building without a strong foundation." That foundation, in his estimation, is Windows NT 4.0 and 5.0, to which his organization plans to migrate over the course of this year.

Gates called NT Microsoft's "most important product in terms of the strategic impact it's having," and added that about one half of Microsoft's two billion dollar annual research and development budget was being spent on the Windows operating system. This is a significant expenditure. Sun Microsystems, for example, is expended to spend just under $1 billion this year in R&D for all its technologies combined, which include Java, Solaris, and SPARC hardware.

Unlike yesterday's keynoter -- Papows endeavored to deliver a thoughtful look at the future of electronic commerce to a much smaller crowd -- Gates took every opportunity to pitch Microsoft's products. Consequently, Microsoft is unlikely to be the subject of the kind of conversation overheard this morning in front of the convention center:

Comdex Attendee 1: (pointing to the Lotus banners hung from every light post on the sidewalk): Whoa, Lotus in your face. Who's Lotus?

Comdex Attendee 2: They do Lotus Notes. 1-2-3 kinda dried up for them.

Comdex Attendee 1: What's Notes?

--Elizabeth Heichler and Carolyn A. April, IDG News Service, Boston Bureau. With additional reporting by SunWorld staff

Intel warns of Q2 slump

Boston (May 30, 1997) -- Intel Corp. warned investors today that its second quarter sales and profits will slump below its expectations, in part due to slower than anticipated demand in Europe.

In April, Intel predicted that its revenues for the second quarter would be the same as or a bit higher than the US$6.4 billion it posted in the first quarter of this year, officials said. But Intel now expects revenues to be down five to 10 percent for the second quarter, officials said.

Outside of Europe, revenues are expected to be mixed, with some regions showing increased sales and others showing a drop, said Howard High, an Intel spokesman. But within Europe, he said, "we're seeing [soft sales] across the continent."

Sales have slowed across the world for the Pentium and, to a lesser extent, the Pentium Pro, as customers switch to the newer MMX-enhanced Pentiums and Pentium II, High said. Demand for MMX Pentiums and the Pentium II is strong, he said.

Intel expects its second quarter gross margin percentage to slump from the 64 percent margin it posted in the first quarter, officials said. For the year, it had predicted a gross margin of 60 percent, plus or minus a few percentage points; it still expects its gross margin percentage for the year to fall in the mid-to-high end of that range. Longer term, it expects gross margins to be around 50 percent.

Intel expects its expenses in the second quarter to be seven to nine percent higher than the $1.3 billion it showed in the first quarter, officials said.

Intel's first quarter revenue of $6.4 billion was an increase of 39 percent over the $4.6 billion it posted during the first quarter last year. Its net income was roughly $2 billion, up from $894 million for the same period last year.

--Sari Kalin, IDG News Service, Boston Bureau