Microsoft partners to take on Unix in the data center

Officials for Unisys Corp. on Tuesday fired a shot across the bow of the Unix community with its announcement that Microsoft Corp. is aggressively developing Windows solutions for the Unisys ES-7000 server with the intent to push the Unix operating platform out of the data center.

Calling the demise of Unix in the data center a "when, not if" scenario, Pete Samsom, vice president and general manager of technological development at Unisys, said Microsoft and Avanade -- a new company created by Accenture, formally Anderson Consulting Inc. -- have been working on Windows data center technology for almost a year. The products, scheduled to begin appearing by year's end, will run on the Unisys ES-7000, the only server currently available that can run Windows on 32-way Intel-based architecture.

Samsom said that Microsoft and Avanade have come together "to develop applications at the high-end Windows space to take Datacenter Server and .NET Enterprise Server and be competitive with high-end Unix applications" from Unix players such as Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems.

"By moving the Windows applications up to the space traditionally occupied by Unix, we hope to completely do away with Unix in the long-term," Samsom said. "It's not an if, but a when; the Wintel alliance will push Sun out of that space."

Samsom's strong words drew fire from industry analysts who believe Microsoft and Unisys have a steep hill to climb before wrestling the data center environment from Unix.

"I think Microsoft has been making some slow and steady progress in the data center, but Unix owns [the data center market], and they aren't giving up very easy," said Linley Gwennap, principal analyst at Linley Group, a technology analysis firm with headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

"Unix has been designed to meet the needs of these high-end systems [found in data centers]. The kind of reliability people put up with on a PC you simply can't put up with in a data center. [Microsoft still has] a way to go. They are gaining a foothold and working their way up," Gwennap said.

Samsom said one of the challenges facing Microsoft with high-end computing is that "most applications in the Windows space are tuned for 4- and 8-way servers," not the 32-way Unisys server.

Samsom also said that although migrating Unix applications over to Windows is "relatively straightforward" for companies running unmodified "packaged software," certain Unix applications will require some re-engineering.

The benefits of running a Windows environment as opposed to Unix are twofold, according to Samsom.

"First, it's easier finding Wintel skills in the current market because of the size [of its deployment] and it is a standard as opposed to the variety of Unix offerings," Samsom said. And most companies would prefer to internally promote their Windows-trained employees to data center administrators running Windows in the data center rather than hire what Samsom called "expensive Unix guys."

Joyce Becknell, the director of computer platforms and architectures at Boston, Mass.-based Aberdeen Group Inc., believes that, for Microsoft to make headway into the mission-critical data center environment, the company must overcome not only an image problem but also the security issue.

"In their wildest dreams is Unix in trouble," Becknell said. "[Unisys] can make a boast, but Microsoft has to convince [customers] their software can maintain a high-availability, end-to-end data center. Can they do it running a single application? Maybe. But an entire nerve center connected with [Windows] NT? I don't believe it."

Becknell also said the current version of Microsoft's Active Directory, when running in full compliance with the LDAP standard, does not perform to acceptable levels of security.

Officials for Microsoft were unavailable for comment.

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