Unisys Federal builds on Windows NT center

Unisys Corp. has placed a lot of faith in the builditandtheywillcome model. Seeing a need for a facility where federal customers could learn about Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT in the enterprise, Unisys' Federal Systems Division opened a 'center of excellence' in its suburban Washington, D.C.,

Unisys Corp. has placed a lot of faith in the build-it-and-they-will-come model. Seeing a need for a facility where federal customers could learn about Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT in the enterprise, Unisys' Federal Systems Division opened a "center of excellence" in its suburban Washington, D.C., office in September and is hosting federal customers at the rate of about two per week.

About 20 Social Security Administration executives who visited the center in November were updated on the technology being deployed by Unisys and its key partners in the $280 million Intelligent Work-station/Local-Area Network contract awarded in 1996, said Irv Epstein, vice president of Windows NT enterprise for Unisys' Federal Systems Division. Through IWS/LAN, SSA is fielding Windows NT workstations on 50,000 desktops in field offices around the nation.

Shortly after a visit from another federal group, a task order for a database reporting system was issued through the Army Corporate Enterprise Solutions blanket purchase agreement, Epstein said.

The center, with its tall, etched-glass doors opening into a spacious room outfitted with curvy office furniture, is just the sort of '90s marketing ploy needed to help modernize the image of the company that sold the Census Bureau its first mainframe computer in 1951.

For demos of Windows NT and other Microsoft technologies, a cluster of four Unisys XR/6 NT servers with a total of 48 200 MHz Intel Corp. Pentium Pro processors and access to a terabyte of disk space stands at the ready. The adjacent presentation room holds 60 people.

The center is one of four that Unisys has opened to differentiate itself from other integrators and convince customers that the technology it "eats, sleeps and drinks" is not just mainframe technology, but largely Microsoft's.

"Our relationship with Microsoft is based on our enterprise-integration skills," said James F. McGuirk, president of Unisys Federal Systems. "We did a very poor job going down [from mainframe to desktop computing]. As we were coming down, the idea of [providing solutions for a] product was not as important as supplying it."

The federal market long ago, and earlier than the commercial market, overcame the perception of Unisys strictly as a big-iron company, Epstein said.

"We have many [indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity] customers [to whom] we don't supply any hardware," Epstein said. Services accounted for 75 percent of Unisys' federal division's more than $1 billion in revenue in 1998, and Windows NT will continue to provide opportunity.

"Today there are more opportunities out there in the Microsoft world and NT than all of the service providers combined could possibly handle," Epstein said. "That's where we think the market is headed, and the momentum is certainly there."

Microsoft's challenge is convincing users that Windows NT, which will change its name to Windows 2000 with the next release, is scalable for industrial-strength applications. Windows NT installations are typically limited to groups of 25 users and are mainly for file and print sharing, according to International Data Corp.

An IDC study conducted last year on trends in server operating systems predicted that Microsoft's NT server installed base would surpass Unix's this year and Netware's next year.

Unisys has bet heavily on Windows NT and focused on four things it has to supply - reliability, scalability, availability and interoperability - to position Microsoft's operating system to support more enterprise-level operations, McGuirk said.

The work done at Unisys' center of excellence showcases Windows NT with an emphasis on developing and testing enterprise solutions. As an example, Epstein said Unisys engineers working at the center recently converted applications running on a 200G Oracle database to the SQL 7 platform to check the scalability of the Microsoft database.

"We will benchmark and validate the readiness of these products for our customers before we will advise them to proceed," Epstein said. He said the products' interoperability can be tested as well, and if mainframe capacity is needed, engineers can rely on the center of excellence at Unisys' corporate headquarters in Blue Bell, Pa.

Unisys also has increased the number of Microsoft certified systems engineers and Microsoft certified solution developers on its staff to just more than 100, Epstein said.

Microsoft has many partnerships with other federal integrators, but Pete Hayes, general manager for Microsoft's Federal Systems Division, said the Unisys center gives Microsoft a perfect opportunity to demonstrate Microsoft products in a large-scale environment.

"People question whether NT can scale. If you go over to the Unisys center you can see how our products scale," Hayes said. Many of Microsoft's partners have made substantial investments in benchmarking centers and service demonstration facilities, but Hayes said Unisys' center draws directly on the company's enterprise experience.

"Unisys has chosen to take on the large-scale computing environment because that's their heritage and history, and that's what they're good at," he said.

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