Eye on the Competition

Up-to-the-minute news on Sun's rivals

September  1997
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IBM's 64-bit Raven to spread wings

San Francisco (September 19, 1997) -- IBM's RS/6000 division plans to announce an upgrade to its AIX Unix software along with a 64-bit, 12-way multiprocessor enterprise server called "Raven" on October 6, 1997, according to IBM representatives.

Hot on the heels of HP's move to a full 64-bit operating system (HP-UX 11), IBM's AIX 4.3 will feature a multithreaded 64-bit kernel, native LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) support, as well as the large file and memory support that everything 64-bit entails, according to company representatives. IBM is also promising that 32-bit AIX applications will have binary compatibility with the 64-bit OS.

IBM also plans to announce security and Web performance enhancements to AIX and says its partners will be announcing a variety of third-party, 64-bit applications to run on the new platform.

Raven will be based on the "Apache" PowerPC AS chip, originally developed by IBM's AS/400 business unit. International Data Corp. (IDC) analyst Jean Bozman notes that IBM began modifying the PowerPC AS chip to work on Unix after first trying to bring its PowerPC 620 chip to market in a 64-bit system. Shipping a Unix system on the PowerPC AS "is the resolution of a problem that goes way back until 1995," she says.

Moving from the PowerPC 620 design, which was jointly developed with Motorola, to the PowerPC AS means that IBM's 64-bit Unix offerings will rely on an IBM-only chip design.

Whether or not Sun will be the last to ship 64-bit Unix is unclear. Though IBM has given October 6 as the AIX 4.3 announcement date, it is not saying when exactly it plans to ship the product. Sun says it plans to ship a 64-bit version of Solaris in the second quarter of 1998.

Bozman points out that while the larger file and memory support available to 64-bit systems is important, "it isn't very important to everyone. The conclusion I hear out there among the vendor community is that it is important to have 64-bit, but it is not everything." Bozman adds that other Unix vendors like Digital and Silicon Graphics have already shipped 64-bit systems.

AIX 4.3 will also have a new Web-based systems management interface, called WebSM. WebSM essentially provides a Java front-end to various AIX system management tools, allowing administrators to manage and configure things like back-up, printing, processes, and users from any Java-enabled client. IBM representatives were on hand at this week's IT Forum conference in New York to demonstrate the new software. They said that while the current version of WebSM lets administrators do a simple installation, more sophisticated remote configuration management features are planned for upcoming versions of AIX. A development kit for customizing WebSM is also under development.

--Robert McMillan, SunWorld


Head of AltaVista quits after Digital nixes IPO

Hong Kong (September 18, 1997) -- Digital Equipment Corp. has lost the head of its AltaVista Web search engine division, company officials confirmed late last night.

Ilene Lang, AltaVista Internet Software Inc. vice president, quit her post earlier this month, according to a report in today's Wall Street Journal. The report suggests that Lang was unhappy about Digital's decision not to take AltaVista public.

Digital filed an initial public offering (IPO) registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission last year for AltaVista Internet Software Inc., after announcing its intention to take AltaVista public in August last year.

Several rival search engine companies including Yahoo Inc., Excite Inc. and Infoseek Inc. took the IPO plunge earlier last year. However, although the companies' IPOs were successful, the market later became less enthusiastic, and there were substantial drop-offs in share prices. Digital had planned to sell off up to 20 percent of AltaVista, garnering the company around $50 million. The company also hoped spinning off AltaVista would encourage staff retention.

But then in late June of this year, Digital Chairman Robert Palmer announced the abandonment of the AltaVista IPO and the reintegration of the business back into the company's product division.

Lang joined Digital in November 1995 as vice president of the company's connectivity business unit. She came to Digital from Lotus Development Corp. where she'd held the position of senior vice president of Lotus' desktop business group, handling the worldwide development and marketing of Lotus' SmartSuite desktop applications suite, for the past year.

The bulk of AltaVista staff are now reporting to Bruce Claflin, senior vice president responsible for worldwide sales and marketing.

--Clare Haney, IDG News Service, Hong Kong Bureau

Wintel to Sun: Let ISO control Java

San Francisco (September 11, 1997) -- Microsoft Corp., Compaq Computer Corp., Digital Equipment Corp. and Intel Corp. sent a letter to Sun Microsystems Inc. asking the company to turn over ownership of its Java development language to an international standards body.

The letter addressed to Jim Mitchell, vice president at Sun, comes as the company prepares to resubmit a proposal to the International Standards Organization (ISO), under which Java would become an ISO-sanctioned standard. Under Sun's plan, however, it would keep control of the Java trademark and over revisions to the standard, an objective opposed by many in the industry.

Following a vote on Sun's original proposal in July, Sun had 60 days to address concerns raised by ISO members. Sun's response to the ISO member comments is expected next week.

In the letter sent yesterday executives of the four companies urge Sun to turn ownership of Java over to ISO or another international standards body, which then should handle maintenance and evolution of Java along with control of the specification. In addition, the letter states that the name Java should be associated with the standard and that implementers meeting conformance to the standard should be free to use it.

Also companies should have the ability to self-test their conformance with the standard, states the letter, which was signed by Robert Stearn, senior vice president at Compaq; Bill Strecker, vice president at Digital; William Swope, vice president at Intel and Bob Muglia, vice president at Microsoft.

"Your response will reveal whether Sun is really committed to the successful transportation of Java to ISO or is just seeking the marketing benefits of ISO recognition without actually transferring control of the technology," the executives said in the letter.

Under its original proposal Sun tried to obtain the status of a Publicly Available Specification (PAS) submitter, which would make Sun the body that has control over the Java specification and revisions to it. This status is usually only awarded to industry organizations, not individual companies.

Sun's new proposal, expected within the next few days, should ensure that the answer to two specific questions are negative, the letter also says. Those questions are: "(1) Does the new submission leave Sun with the veto power over a potential international standard, and (2) Do implementers have to petition Sun to obtain necessary rights to successfully implement the standard now or in the future?"

Sun's Mitchell could not immediately be reached for comment.

--Torsten Busse, IDG News Service, San Francisco Bureau


IBM dumps NetPC

Boston (September 8, 1997) -- IBM today confirmed that in no longer plans to sell machines conforming to the Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp. NetPC specification because of limited customer demand.

IBM's decision may make some observers, who have dismissed the effort as a marketing ploy, say "I told you so."

Following Oracle Corp.'s splashy announcement of its intent to offer a stripped-down network computer (NC), IBM, Microsoft, Intel and others espoused their own version of a NetPC.

"There was this rush to [build a NetPC] and be part of this group that was created largely to go against the mindshare" games of the NC effort, said Bruce Stephen, an analyst at Framingham, Massachusetts-based International Data Group. "Many vendors were doing it for marketing purposes and to be part of a united front against NCs."

But according to IBM, the decision to end its NetPC efforts was based not on considerations about other vendors but on the message it was receiving from its customers.

"We are responding to our customer requirements," said Paul Eldridge, client systems operations manager for IBM PC company in Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Through a series of NetPC beta test sites, IBM found out that, while customers want manageability that a NetPC offers, they are not interested in an entirely new footprint product, Eldridge said.

"We're trying to bring to the marketplace what our customers want and they don't want something unique," Eldridge said.

According to Eldridge, users in both the U.S. and Europe who used the beta test models indicated that the best part of the NetPC concept was its manageability.

"We've gone back to the drawing board to provide manageability" across our existing PCs, Eldridge said.

In October, the company will release a "sealed-box PC" which will not conform to the NetPC standards, he said. Basically, the machine will be a regular IBM PC with a sealed case and built-in manageability which will be aimed at customers who want to make it very difficult for employees to gain access to their PCs, he said.

IBM refused to comment on what the "sealed-box PC" will entail. For example, they would not clarify what model of PC will be turned into the sealed-box model, what operating system and chip it would use or if it would have any disk drive or CD-ROM drive.

Nonetheless, IBM may have tapped into an important trend illuminated by the whole NetPC exercise, according to IDC's Stephen.

"The lesson of the NetPC is maybe it's better to focus on broader capabilities like management tools," which can be deployed across a whole range of products, rather than a single form factor, Stephen said.

Stephen cited Intel's LANDesk Configuration Manager or McAfee Associates Inc.'s Zero Administration Client suite as management tools initially discussed in reference to NetPCs but increasingly being used in standard desktop PCs.

The management tools "can be used on much more than the NetPC," Stephen said.

--Rebecca Sykes and Kristi Essick, IDG News Service, Boston Bureau

HP to ship new PA-RISC 9000 workgroup server

San Mateo, CA (September 2, 1997) -- Aiming to prove that its Unix-based RISC servers can take on Windows NT-based Intel servers and Sun Solaris servers without blowing IT budgets, Hewlett-Packard next week will release a new PA-RISC 9000 workgroup server.

Following new server releases last month from Compaq and Sun, HP hopes to be a strong third contender with this two-processor RISC server that it said can outperform four-way Pentium Pro-based systems.

The workgroup server market is a strategic one because once a customer settles on a technology -- be it NT or Unix -- chances are they will stick with it for larger purchases in the future, one analyst said.

"They can't allow the NT vendors to go in there and take all the market share," said Dan Dolan, an associate analyst with Dataquest's server and workstation group, in San Jose, CA. "Sun Microsystems definitely made a strong move into that area, and it makes sense for HP to go into that area, too."

The new D-Class model will enter this product family at the high end, and therefore prices will start at $26,000, significantly higher than Sun's $15,000 Ultra Enterprise 450 and Compaq's $14,000 ProLiant 7000.

However, HP maintains that configuring these competing products with the same amount of performance and storage capacity as the new D Class server would require expensive board upgrades and multiple system chassis.

HP's entry-level D-Class model starts in price at $7,000, less than half that of Sun's entry-level offering, said Dan Glessner, product marketing manager for HP 9000 enterprise servers.

"We think Sun just missed the mark in pricing [its Enterprise 450]. The sweet spot in the workgroup server space is really at the sub-$10,000 level," Glessner said.

The new server will be based on HP's 64-bit, 180-MHz PA-RISC 8000 processor and will run HP-UX 10.2. The server will also run the 64-bit rewrite of HP-UX, Version 11, before year's end.

The server's internal storage capacity will reach 20 gigabytes, and external storage can go as large as 9.5 terabytes. Board upgrades to HP's 8200 and 8500 processors will be available in the future.

HP adds model
Another Hewlett-Packard server division this week plans to announce a high-end model in its entry-level family.

HP's Intel server division is pushing further into the small-business market with a Pentium II-based model called the E45. Priced starting at $2,217 and available this month, the system will use a 233-MHz or 266-MHz Pentium II processor and will come with more memory and disk capacity than its predecessors, said Mari Wilson, worldwide product manager for HP's E-Class.

--Cara Cunningham, InfoWorld (a SunWorld sister publication)



HP's Merced plans crystallizing

San Mateo, CA (August 29, 1997) -- As Intel Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. head toward a planned October unveiling of their Merced processor plans, details are beginning to escape about what the chip will look like and about HP's planned transition from PA-RISC to Merced.

The two firms plan to outline Merced's specifications on October 14 at the Microprocessor Forum in San Jose, CA. HP has said the Merced chip, which HP will not manufacture but will buy from Intel, will be developed in parallel with its own PA-RISC architecture.

At HP World in Chicago this week, Mike Feldman, North America business development manager at HP, said Merced -- also called IA-64 for "Intel Architecture, 64-bit" -- will ship by the end of the decade. The chip should debut at 500 MHz and will be scalable to greater than 4,000 MHz (4 GHz), he said.

To differentiate HP's Merced-based systems from those of its competitors, HP will develop chip set, BIOS, and firmware technologies to surround the chip, and compiler, clustering, and network management software to exploit it, Feldman said.

"Our overall systems design will add tremendous value around this architecture, creating the highest performing servers in the marketplace well into the future," said Dirk Down, a marketing executive in HP's General Systems division.

"There will be an overlap of the PA-RISC and IA-64 based systems," Down said. "This will provide our customers with not only a smooth transition to IA-64, but more importantly, the choice of when to move," he said.

"IA-64 based systems will provide complete binary compatibility with our existing systems," Down said. "Customers can run their current applications unchanged on these new systems."

"HP will continue PA-RISC processors to meet our customers' transition needs," Down said.

Once the transitions have begun, HP will phase out PA-RISC, Down said.

"You can see that we will ultimately be getting out of microprocessor manufacturing," Down said.

According to Down, "HP made this decision partly on a simple economic fact: A company cannot individually support microprocessor R&D and manufacturing costs over the long run without the volume derived from a merchant processor."

With no buyers for PA-RISC processors outside HP, the architecture could not survive. "As our competitors' processors approach the end of their lifecycle, these companies will ultimately come to the same conclusion as HP," Down said.

"We were the first company in the computer business to transition our customers from a CISC- to a RISC-based processor architecture," Down said. "A skeptical industry questioned our judgment in making this move, but history has proven that our decision was a sound one.

"All of our competing system vendors now run on RISC processors," Down added. "We feel that our decision to enter the alliance with Intel, whose microprocessors now reside in over 90 percent of the computers in the world, will also be proven sound."

"Competitors like to say that we're abandoning RISC," said Richard Belluzo, executive vice president and general manager of HP's computer organization. "Our response is we're moving to the next technology."

--Andy Santoni and Cara Cunningham, InfoWorld Electric (a SunWorld affiliate)


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