NEC, Microsoft to work on server development

NEC Corp. and Microsoft Corp. announced Tuesday a strengthening of their relationship in the field of fault tolerant, highly reliable and scalable servers that puts Microsoft's Windows and .Net platforms front and center and calls into question an alliance NEC previously announced with Hewlett-Packard Co.

"With NEC we have plans to strengthen the work we do together," said Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft, announcing the deal at a Tokyo news conference. Outlining existing work being carried out by the two companies, he added, "We're also expanding this partnership into the high-end enterprise area."

"Microsoft's goal is to make sure Windows servers are, both in terms of their power and capabilities, the most powerful servers available -- as powerful as anything available in the mainframe or Unix arena. NEC, through its advanced hardware technology and through its very rich systems integration capability, is working with Microsoft, guiding us in terms of what we need to do, not only in the product but coming together to create a solution for our customers."

The two companies have agreed to work more closely in three broad areas: the development of highly reliable, high-performance servers including those based on 64-bit versions of the Windows operating system and Intel Corp.'s microprocessors; the establishment of a systems integration service to combine such servers with Microsoft's .Net initiative; and the development of Internet services that combine .Net and the servers to be developed.

The server development work will focus on three main areas, from low-end blade server or rack-mount servers through machines based on up to four 32-bit processors to large, fault tolerant machines with eight or more 32-bit or 64-bit processors, said the two companies. Additionally, the two will work on testing and evaluation of IP-SAN (Internet protocol - storage area network) and network attached storage systems, they said.

Tuesday's announcement strengthens ties between NEC and Microsoft. NEC was the first Japanese company to work with Microsoft when it was planning its first personal computer, said Gates, and that cooperation moved into the server area in 1997 when they embarked on a project that created NEC's Express 5800 line of machines -- now one of the best-selling server lines in Japan.

The deal announced with Microsoft is similar to one unveiled just over a year ago with HP. Under that agreement, NEC and HP said they would work together to develop servers based on Intel's IA-64 architecture and HP's HP-UX Unix operating system. Koji Nishigaki, president of NEC, avoided directly answering a question from reporters on what Tuesday's agreement means for the HP alliance but added that NEC is now going to let the market decide whether it wants Windows or Unix-based systems.

"From now on, Windows will become more enhanced," he said at the news conference. "Furthermore, a market driven approach will be taken so we will let the market decide. As a system integrator we have an obligation to respond to those needs and we believe this is the way to broaden our business."

Whatever the market decides, Gates said, it is one of the best areas to be at present. "Demand for very reliable, high-end servers is going to be an expanding market, probably one of the best markets in the computer industry," he said.

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