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Unisys' Dylan to take spotlight

The computer maker, now emphasizing Wintel systems for the enterprise, on Monday plans to launch a 32-processor Intel server, code-named Dylan, running Windows Server 2003.

BLUE BELL, Pa.--Unisys is betting big on Windows Server 2003, and will release a new version of a server that will run up to 32 Intel processors to showcase the new operating system.

Code-named Dylan, the Unisys ES7000/500 server comes little more than two weeks before Microsoft's official launch on April 24 of Windows Server 2003. Last month, the Redmond, Wash.-based company released final, or gold, code of the software, clearing the way for the release of new systems running Windows Server 2003.

For Unisys, Dylan marks the revival of the ES7000. The Blue Bell, Pa.-based company unveiled the mainframelike 32-way server in mid-1999, rapidly winning deals with other computer manufacturers to carry the product. In 2000, Compaq Computer, now owned by Hewlett-Packard, and Dell Computer agreed to sell the server. But Compaq dumped the ES7000 about a year later. Dell followed suit in early 2002.

The ES7000 uses a technology called "CMP," or cellular multiprocessing, which lets groups of processors inside the server work independently of each other. For example, eight processors might be assigned to an essential database application while three groups of four processors each might run three separate operations for an HR department. The flexibility of the system is designed to cut hardware and management costs.

"Unisys is looking to help people who want to get control of what had been a sprawl of servers smeared across the corporate landscape," D.H. Brown analyst Rich Partridge said. "Unisys is trying to get customers back to a more centralized kind of control."

Mark Feverston, Unisys' vice president of platform marketing for enterprise servers, characterized the approach as a good way for businesses to buy only as much computing power as is needed now, but with overhead to grow over time.

"Unisys is trying to introduce people to the ES7000 that aren't willing to commit to a big configuration and grow up when the customers do see the value of the old-style, mainframe centralized IT shop," Partridge said.

Unisys will sell four models: The Aries 510, Aries 520, Orion 530 and Orion 540. Servers can be configured with either 1.5GHz or 2GHz Pentium 4 Xeon processors and configured to run Windows 2000 Advanced Server, Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition, UnixWare 7.1.3 and SCO Linux Server 4. The 520, 530 and 540 models also can run Windows 2000 Datacenter Server and Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition. All four models are scheduled to be available starting on Monday, although systems running Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition won't ship until May 30.

The Aries 510 can be configured with 4, 6 or 8 processor, and starts at $35,000 with four 1.5GHz Pentium 4 Xeon processors. The 520, which starts at $48,000, can be configured with eight or 16 processors. The Orion 530 is a clustered server made up of two 16-processor cells; starting price is $120,000. The 540, which sells for $375,000, can be configured with either 16 or 32 processors.

Mounting competition
Unisys isn't the only company shipping so-called big-iron servers that can be partitioned into smaller ones. HP shipped the long-delayed ProLiant DL740 and DL760 servers in February. Prices start at $24,999 with four 1.5GHz Pentium 4 Xeon processors. NEC and IBM have similar servers.

But Feverston believes Unisys' "three-year head start" on competitors in the 32-processor Intel server market gives the company a huge advantage. "All the start-up problems are a dot in our rearview mirror," he said. For "all our competitors, that's filling up their windshield."

Microsoft apparently agrees. "The Unisys guys certainly are ahead of the crowd," said Jim Hebert, a general manager in Microsoft's Windows Server product management group.

Still, in terms of worldwide server shipments, Unisys' claim to fame is the "other" category, ranking a lowly No. 21 in fourth-quarter 2002 market share, according to Gartner. But in terms of server revenue, Unisys made a much stronger showing, capturing the No. 6 position.

"Unisys is not going to try and put out of business the high-volume kind of players," Partridge said. "Unisys has found an area where their strengths--their background in mainframes--play well to customers who recognize those advantages."

"I think the significance of the (server announcement) is limited outside Unisys, because it has a very limited sales engine," Giga Group analyst Richard Fichera said. "This is great technology, a modular design, and it is available for an affordable price. But Unisys doesn't have the sales reach. If IBM or HP had this system, it would sell gangbusters."

Betting on Windows
The server maker has sold about 1,000 of the older ES7000 systems, which are in use in about 45 countries around the world, according to Unisys. Seventy-five percent of systems are sold with 16 or more processors. Eighteen percent replace Unix servers or mainframes. About 60 percent run Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, and 80 percent run SQL Server. Around 40 percent of ES7000 servers go to new customers.

One of those new customers, mentioned by Feverston, Hebert and Partridge, is JetBlue Airways. JetBlue has taken a more standardized approach to business, such as using one kind of Airbus airplane. The approach helps to simplify maintenance and parts purchasing. The company also standardized on Microsoft software and seven ES700 servers.

"We've got a great customer in JetBlue," Hebert said. "If you look at the airline industry, only two are profitable. One of them is JetBlue."

JetBlue could not be reached for comment.

On the day last week that the press toured Unisys' labs in Blue Bell, technology managers from Turkish banks and technicians from Microsoft's Turkey location were testing a custom application running on ES servers.

But there are some problems with Unisys' Windows focus, particularly as the company pushes hard on version 2003. For one thing, big businesses are more interested in the older version, and it could be for another 12 months or more before they start moving to the newer OS.

"Our customer base will probably continue on Windows 2000 for awhile," Feverston said.