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Microsoft, Digital expand pact

The two firms add new initiatives and disclose a new architecture for Digital to take Windows NT Server into the highest levels of corporate America.

SAN FRANCISCO--Executives from software giant Microsoft (MSFT) and systems provider Digital Equipment (DEC) were all smiles at an event to announce an extension to their partnership and why not?

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.

Timothy R. McVeigh
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:

  • Collaboration to develop resource sharing capabilities for Microsoft Cluster Server.

  • Plans for Digital to port its emulation software to NT so that Alpha-based applications can be used in conjunction with Intel-based systems and for both firms to drive a single interface for future 64-bit implementations of NT. Microsoft also pledged to deliver its development tools on the Alpha platform.

  • A focus on three key markets: messaging, where Digital has installed more than two million seats of Microsoft's Exchange; infrastructure, where Digital will provide tools to tie NT to Unix and other systems, and both firms will promote use of the next version of NT and the SQL database; and the Internet, where the two will jointly push adoption of Microsoft's Site Server and Internet Information Server.

  • Further use of Digital software, such as Digital Expeditor, Visual Batch, and Alta Vista Process Flow, to add new features to Microsoft Exchange.

    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."