One firm announced a blockbuster merger earlier this week and the other will reap the benefits through the growing use of the Windows NT operating system.
Microsoft CEO Bill Gates (left) and Digital CEO Robert Palmer. (AP)
News of the expanded alliance follows what has to be the busiest week in Digital's history, due to the announcement of a $9.6 billion merger with PC giant Compaq Computer and the realignment of the company's server system line.
On the heels of those moves, the two firms repeated the oft-professed benefits of their relationship, which dates back to 1995, and added new initiatives, capped by the disclosure of a new systems architecture being developed by Digital to take Windows NT server into the highest levels of corporate America.
"This is a deep-rooted relationship that is not based on talk, but on action," Robert Palmer, Digital's chairman, said.
As part of the new pact, Microsoft and Digital will double the number of support professionals dedicated to Windows NT-based systems at the systems giant, cooperate on new technologies that build on NT's current capabilities, and focus on several key markets for joint sales.
The new developments underscore the high stakes involved in taking Windows NT into the far reaches of corporate America. Rather than rely on its own innovation, Microsoft has relied on a variety of partners, including Hewlett-Packard, to fulfill the enterprise requirements for NT. Maybe none as much as veteran Digital.
"Digital was willing to bet on Windows NT and Microsoft Exchange when those products were just coming to the marketplace," said Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and CEO.
Though details were sketchy, one result of the expanded partnership will be NT's ability to run on large enterprise-class systems in the near future.
Mike Howard, Digital's vice president for the Microsoft alliance, said the company would offer new systems by next year that take advantage of 32 and 64 Alpha microprocessors in one box, with plans to take the high-end systems even further.
These multiprocessor server computers, commonly referred to as SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) systems in the industry, will be based on a "NUMA-ish," or nonuniform memory access, design, according to Howard. The systems will also take advantage of the Very Large Memory (VLM) capabilities in the forthcoming version 5.0 of NT, the first component of a 64-bit drive for the software.
VLM support allows larger chunks of data to be housed in system memory, speeding up the execution of applications.
The NUMA architecture for server systems represents a nascent technology that ties memory systems on various chip boards together. Howard said Digital was working on a variant of the architecture that does not sacrifice performance by tying various memory subsystems together.
"It's clear that computing architectures are about to take a quantum leap," Howard said.
Other elements of the partnership include:
The new partnership enhancements can only be good news for Microsoft, a company that has essentially decided that Windows NT will become the driver for future growth. Gates said that work on the highly anticipated NT 5.0 upgrade is showing "excellent progress," and Palmer said the next version of the software "is going to astound the critics."