HP sees strong future yet for Unix

If all the noise surrounding Windows NT has left you wondering about the fate of Unix, rest assured, says Hewlett-Packard, that the operating system continues to have a life--and a vigorous one at that.

The assumption that Hewlett-Packard’s decision to back Windows NT is at the expense of its support for Unix is crazy, says Cupertino-based Nigel Ball, HP’s director of marketing systems, solutions and delivery marketing.

“We’re a $US32 billion business and can afford to do more than one thing,” he says.

“From a Unix point of view, we’re as aggressive as ever. But we’re in a world where customers will have both Unix and NT.”

Unix, he says, will continue to dominate the high end, though NT will increasingly encroach upwards from the low mission-critical application server.

HP considers that Unix will be a $US35 billion business, conservatively, by the year 2000, with NT growing to around $US18 billion.

“We lead the Unix market today and we’re going to continue to lead it,” Ball says. “It’s a value proposition, about performance and scalability.”

HP’s current Unix business is worth around $US10 billion. Ball says HP’s R&D is targeted very much at the high-end Unix market. He says that the financial services sector in particular is implementing NT, mainly for branch banking.

“Telcos have been far more resistant. They’re less inclined to move to NT until there is clear scalability and availability. However, it’s true to say that most companies are trialling it [NT].”

The New Zealand experience is that most customers are demanding NT-based solutions, says HP New Zealand managing director Bob Cattell. “It’s shifting from a departmental solution to an enterprise solution for smaller companies,” he says.

Ball says that over the next three years there will be a five-fold performance increase in multiprocessing Unix. “We’ll be looking at 100,000 transactions a minute by the year 2000. It will take a long time for NT to close that gap. “Most customers don’t see NT playing a role in the back end within the next five years.”

The year 2000 problem will be a big impetus for Unix, he says.

“We know most of our customers can’t solve the year 2000 problem by recoding. The only option is to move to a certified platform. The cost of fixing legacy applications can’t be justified against employing new applications.

“This gives us a real chance of taking MVS market share. People will begin to see MVS capabilities on Unix.”

1999 remains the delivery date for the Merced chip, he says, making the interesting comment that Intel is “paranoid” about Digital’s Alpha chip. “That’s crazy, because you wouldn’t bet on Digital as a company right now. However, Alpha is the only technology, along with PA-RISC, in the high-performance space.” (Intel is developing the Merced chip in partnership with HP).

Ball says big, single massively parallel boxes are still the way forward for data warehousing. Next year, HP will add to the technology by introducing dynamic partitioning, along with Numa technology.

“There is also a strong drive toward fibre channel as the data backbone. We’ll provide that infrastructure in all our systems.

“The distance capability offered by fibre channel is getting a lot of attention. We’re working on a new system-to-system interconnect within clusters. It will provide much higher bandwidth and lower latency.”

An announcement on fibre channel is expected in the next two to three months.

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