Enrico Pesatori leaves his post leading the company's high-end hardware division to run a Silicon Valley start-up.
The departure comes during a critical juncture in Compaq's plans to become a bigger player in the construction of the Internet. On May 16, Pesatori was scheduled to help launch "Wildfire," a new 32-processor server central to Compaq's "NonStop eBusiness" Internet strategy.
Pesatori, who came to Compaq when the company acquired Tandem Computers in 1997, has left to become chief executive of Synaxia, a maker of a high-speed server called "Silicon Server" that is powered by specialized chips.
Pesatori had worked for Digital Equipment, another Compaq acquisition, and was unscathed by at least two Compaq reorganizations and the replacement of chief executive Eckhard Pfeiffer with Michael Capellas.
"He was a cat of nine lives," said International Data Corp. analyst Roger Kay. "I was always amazed that he continued to survive coup after coup. He seemed to be a very survival-oriented character."
The question now turns to Compaq's future, said Terry Shannon, a longtime watcher of Compaq's high-end hardware business.
"This is obviously sudden. The issue is who's going to take over Enrico's role," Shannon said, adding that Bill Heil, head of the most powerful hardware within Pesatori's group, "would be a very logical candidate."
Pesatori was in charge of several components of Compaq's enterprise server and solutions group: Intel-based servers, Alpha-based servers and storage products. The leaders of these three divisions now will report directly to chief executive Michael Capellas, Compaq said in a statement.
A fourth division that had been under Pesatori, the services and solutions division, has been merged with Compaq's sales group under the charge of Peter Blackmore.
"This can be viewed as a promotion for Peter Blackmore, who has been in 'up-and-coming' mode for the last 12 months or so," Shannon said.
Heil is in charge of the Wildfire server line that will make its appearance May 16, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.
A low-end Wildfire, the GS80, will hold up to eight Alpha 21264A processors, and a high-end GS320 has room for as many as 32, Shannon said.
Compaq has said it expects $1 billion in revenue from Wildfire sales by the end of 2000. Shannon believes this is likely, particularly as Compaq has said it already has orders for 120 systems.
A low-end GS80 will cost less than $100,000, whereas a high-end GS320 will cost about $1.5 million, Shannon predicted.
The Wildfires are emerging into a Unix server market thick with competition. Selling servers has been particularly profitable for Sun Microsystems, and Dell Computer, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Compaq have been trying to catch up.
Compaq has had a hard time, though, because it's had to consolidate product lines and personnel from Tandem, Digital and the original Compaq.
"The enterprise group still has some digestion problems it's overcoming," IDC's Kay said. "The company is beginning to get its sea legs again."