A group of server computer vendors, including Compaq and Unisys, has agreed to invest millions into an effort to port UnixWare, the Unix variant from Santa Cruz Operation (SCO), to Intel's upcoming 64-bit Merced chip.
The agreement represents a quantum leap for SCO, whose UnixWare is almost exclusively used by small to medium-sized businesses. Under the alliance effort, SCO's Unix will become, ideally, an high-end corporate "enterprise-class" operating system that will be compatible with a much-anticipated Intel chip technology.
In addition, the consortium will develop a 32-bit enterprise class of Unix, which will drive further opportunities to SCO.
The effort could pit SCO's "flavor" of Unix against heavyweight Unix offerings from Sun, Hewlett-Packard, and Digital, which Compaq recently acquired. All of these more-established variants are going to support Merced.
Unix variants that don't make the leap to Merced, by contrast, may begin to fade away. Data General, one of the four server vendors in the alliance, said that it had no plans to port its own Unix language to Merced.
The server vendors, of course, are expected to benefit as well. By choosing to work with SCO, each of the participating vendors will likely have a complete and workable Unix solution ready when Merced systems begin to roll out in late 1999. Further, by cooperating on porting one Unix operating system, rather than trying to each develop their own 64-bit Unix option, development costs are minimized.
"They need an Intel-Unix solution for the next year and a half," noted Jay Bretzmann, vice president at International Data Corporation.
Compaq is expected to eventually gravitate toward Unix technology from Digital. SCO, he said, acts as a solid interim solution.
Working with SCO also keeps Compaq's current product offerings simple, noted Amir Ahari, an IDC analyst. SCO is currently the Unix operating system offered on Compaq servers when customers do not want Microsoft's Windows NT operating system (OS). By supporting SCO, the transition to 64-bit computing becomes easier for Unix customers of Compaq.
Jerry Sheridan, server analyst at Dataquest, however, speculated that Compaq's commitment may become lukewarm to SCO after the Digital deal closes. Digital, after all, already has a 64-bit OS as well as an installed customer base.
"I question the depth of their commitment. What will happen after the deal closes," he said. "Digital 64-bit Unix is a known technology."
There is also the possibility that Compaq may choose to promote UnixWare as its Unix flavor of choice even after the Digital acquisition goes through.
"Compaq is the master of standardization," Ahari said. "The last thing they want to do is offer different OSes to its clients."
Under terms of the alliance, SCO, Compaq, Unisys, Data General, and ICL will invest millions in research and development to create 32- and 64-bit versions of UnixWare for the Intel platforms. UnixWare will be redesigned to work on servers using a large number of processors as well as servers tied together through clustering technology. With clustering, computers get tied together so that they can share computing loads for maximum efficiency or cover for a machine that shuts down.
The deal also will also likely lead to a consolidation of Unix operating systems. Data General, one of the four server companies participating in the deal, said it would use a SCO's UnixWare as its strategic 64-bit operating system, said Rick Strom, director of Unix product marketing for Data General. Data General, he further added, does not have current plans to create a 64-bit version of its own Unix OS.