They swore they would never make Linux servers, but the tin makers are changing their tune now that the open-source OS is taking over the top end of the market, says Simon Moores.
Once upon a time I interviewed the managing director of Unisys, Brian Hadfield, and asked him if there might ever come a time when Unisys would consider a Linux alternative to Windows on its flagship ES7000 SMP servers.
His reply still reminds me of Jack Nicholson's snarling put-down, “I’d rather stick needles in my eyes.” I left that meeting with Hadfield realising that Unisys had bet the farm on Windows.
So when I read that Unisys had announced support for Linux, a smile crossed my face. Even three years ago, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Sun were also dimissing the idea of penguins at the top, but it's now clear that Linux is settling into a comfortable niche at the higher-end of computing.
Sun is rumoured to be on the verge of revealing a Linux port of its Sun Ray Server, and Nasa has announced it will use one of the world’s biggest Linux-based supercomputers, a 1,000Gbyte monster that integrates a score of 512-processor systems, to help revive its shuttle missions after the 2003 Columbia disaster.
Unisys says its decision reflects “customer interest in using the open-source operating system in big datacentres”. The company is working with Linux Novell and Red Hat to put the operating system on its ES7000 platform - often seen as the living, breathing proof that Windows delivers 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, Joe McGrath, Unisys president and chief operating officer, says, "Our enterprise customers are demanding industrial-strength Linux solutions and we are responding in a revolutionary way."
I've written a number of ES7000 customer case studies and found that many very large organisations get impressive results from mixing Windows with the Unisys ES7000 but rarely mention cost savings with Linux. The fact that it is the enterprise users of Unisys, rather than IBM, who are apparently demanding Linux solutions, suggests that the evolutionary impact predicted by Linux watchers is finally happening.
Not that a rippling introduction of Linux servers will immediately topple Windows from its position at the top of the ES7000 food-chain. After all, Unisys says Linux's appearance on the Intel-driven ES7000 will compete with proprietary Unix servers. That may come as some comfort to Microsoft, which claims Linux victories come at the expense of other flavours of Unix rather than Windows.
Even so, the writing is clearly on the wall and, thanks to aggressive campaigning by IBM and HP, an increasing number of customers will start making the price/performance comparisons that are pushing Microsoft onto the defensive.
The ES7000 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. 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.”
Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.
Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies, and specialises in the areas of e-government and information security.
For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services, visit www.zentelligence.com
This was first published in August 2004