Thought for the day:Don't mention the penguin

Hard-hitting IT columnist Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.Linux and Unisys don't sit easily...

Hard-hitting IT columnist Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.Linux and Unisys don't sit easily together in conversation and over lunch with Brian Hadfield, the Unisys UK managing director, I was told that it would be a "cold day in hell" before Unisys, the "Big Iron" company with its ES7000, would consider Linux as being a suitable platform for the heaviest enterprise applications.

Unisys is very much wedded to the concept of the Windows mainframe and approximately 20% of its UK revenue comes from hardware sales. However, with 74% of total 2001 company revenues coming from services, its business focus as a smaller rival to the likes of IBM's Global Services, is clear.

While both Sun and IBM might agree that Linux is ready for the big time, Hadfield doesn't buy the Linux story and doubts that IBM at least, would ever seriously consider offering Linux to its larger customers as a serious "top of the enterprise" solution. Edge of the enterprise, maybe, which is Sun's side of the argument but Linux, he feels, requires "more stability, more influence and more control" before Unisys would seriously consider running Linux in customer environments.

But with IBM having just bought PwC and Hewlett Packard having merged with Compaq, surely Unisys must be feeling like the ham in the proverbial sandwich? Hadfield, who is an able politician, admits that Unisys has to watch its giant rivals very closely, but insists that the company has a high-end value proposition.

Hadfield believes that Unisys can make a strong contribution to the development of the public sector and the company's experience with large IT projects can go a long way towards helping the public sector avoid project failures.

So, marks out of ten for Unisys? It's a company I know well because of the work we did together on ASP and the datacentre hosting business. For them, as for many others, the ASP superhighway represented a very expensive dead-end and the company learned some hard and useful lessons as a consequence.

Looking forward, Unisys has a great deal to recommend it. A powerful grip on the financial and transportation sectors, good management, experience and an impressive hardware platform in the shape of the ES7000. But regardless of the margins that Unisys hardware represents at a time of declining services revenue everywhere, I have to wonder how long the company could stay in the hardware business if the three largest server gorillas started a price war.

I believe that ultimately Unisys' real future must lie in the provision of highly specialised managed services and consultancy, but time and the success of the Windows mainframe in the datacentre may yet prove me wrong.

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Zentelligence Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores.

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