UNIX system vendors should move beyond their differences and give customers a multivendor operating system if they want to fend off the threat of Microsoft's Windows NT, Intel President and CEO Andy Grove told an overflow UniForum '94 audience in the conference's opening keynote address.
That advice concluded a talk in which he outlined the story behind the development and growth of personal computers, how microprocessor technology has taken over the computing industry, how UNIX has come to dominate design and manufacturing at Intel, and the capabilities UNIX servers now need to deliver for customers like Intel.
Grove concluded with an analysis of the competitive landscape in the wake of last year's release of NT, a UNIX-like operating system marketed for enterprise computing.
PCs have come into their own as they have become dramatically more cost-efficient, Grove noted. As the density of transistors on a silicon chip doubles every 18 months, the cost of processing power has shrunk - from about $10,000 per million instructions per second (MIPS) in 1982 to $120 per MIPS this year. Startlingly, 90 percent of the world's total computing power on the Intel architecture has been shipped in the past two years. "As a result of this incredible cost-efficiency, microprocessor-based computing grew" to the point where PC and workstation hardware sales topped mainframe and minicomputer sales in 1993, Grove pointed out. PCs and workstations accounted for 53 percent of the $104 billion worldwide hardware sales.
Following IBM's announcement that microprocessors would be at the heart of its next mainframes, Grove concluded, "The Micro Revolution is over. Now microprocessors are computing."
UNIX at Intel
The Intel CEO said he only realized how basic UNIX had become to his company's business while researching his talk. UNIX-based networking and e-mail now pervade Intel. And UNIX servers provide the computing basis for both design engineering and manufacturing, he said. "For Intel and for many other companies, UNIX has arrived at the heart of the enterprise."
In design engineering, Intel "has become one of the largest users of UNIX workstations in the world," with about 3,000 UNIX computers to be deployed by the end of 1995, Grove said. "The essential process of logic design within Intel rests upon tools that we have developed internally, hosted by UNIX."
Intel's investment in manufacturing increased dramatically in 1993, including a $1 billion new factory in Ireland, with all manufacturing run by UNIX workstations and servers. About 4,000 UNIX computers are expected to be involved in manufacturing control by 1995, Grove said.
Although UNIX has been thought of as an operating system challenging from outside the corporate castle, "Today UNIX is not a challenger," Grove said. "UNIX is inside the castle that the challenger from the outside will try to attack." And the UNIX industry's response to attack will have to come within what he called a new model of the computer industry - which is now horizontally structured with single companies providing their specialized products and services across the industry, rather than single companies providing every computing product and service for a customer. That structure promotes much faster technological progress and means that to prosper and survive attack, UNIX companies much act faster than they have in the past.
In the new model, application servers have replaced mainframes as the machines at the top of the computing hierarchy, Grove said. He called the new servers standard high-volume computers. "They will end up running modern equivalents of the old enterprise applications, as well as new types of applications. In order to fill the role of the former mainframe, they need to duplicate some of their characteristics."
Both the CPU and I/O must be scalable, Grove said. In addition, user companies depend on continuous application availability and must be able to manage their servers with combinations of hardware and software for fault tolerance and capacity management.
"Multiprocessing, I/O and management will this time be achieved using standard solutions, supported by hundreds of vendors," Grove said. "Rather than being boutique solutions from single vendors, standard high-volume servers will be available from the numerous suppliers that make up the new horizontal computer industry."
Because of the increasing capabilities of microprocessors, on-chip consistent interfaces for multiprocessing will become commonplace, Intel's CEO said. Therefore, standard shrink-wrapped operating systems will be able to use and rely on such standard multiprocessing. "And so we have only one further requirement," he said. "We need a shrink-wrapped, enterprise operating system."
Intel's vice president of information technology, Carlene Ellis, called in by Grove via modem from her office in Fullerton, CA, on a projected PC screen, listed her requirements for the UNIX server of 1994-95. The number one requirement is nonstop operation, 24 hours by seven days by 52 weeks a year, Ellis said. That includes intelligent handling of errors as well as fault isolation and facilities like built-in checkpoint restart.
Other requirements for her system are standard tools for configuration management and a hierarchical storage management solution with automatic intelligent backup. Finally, she said, users "need cross-vendor, unified solutions. Not kind-of cross vendor but across all vendors, we need these capabilities."
Commenting on beta installations of Windows NT, Ellis said she's "very impressed, particularly with the ability to scale NT with superservers and application servers." And NT has a further advantage - "We have one set of people who control the code and one set of people listening to us." But, she noted, "Windows NT is new and until it works for us, it doesn't work."
The Two Threats
Grove concluded by outlining what he considers the two threats to UNIX: first, that the industry will split apart because of three or four companies each developing and exploiting their own "proprietary UNIX." And second, Windows NT.
With the major UNIX versions, "The danger from a user perspective is that over time, these products will indeed become very robust and enterprise-worthy, but increasingly incompatible as each supplier seeks to add value by differentiating," Grove said. "Interoperability standards will partially work, but over time, the long-held UNIX dream of a standard portable operating system will become meaningless as the commonality is dwarfed by the differences."
Windows NT's threat comes primarily from its built-in compatibility with Windows and its operability on multiple platforms, Grove said. The variety of UNIX most widely distributed on multiple platforms is SCO UNIX, which operates on about 375 platforms, Grove noted. SunSoft's Solaris operates on about 35 platforms. But Windows NT, "after just 12 months, has an approved systems list running to 1,700 different systems," he pointed out.
To answer that threat, "Coexistence and interoperability with Windows is crucial. The imperative is to coexist with the tens of millions of Windows computers installed worldwide and move to where the value needs to be added, which is upward." But he emphasized the need for speed. "The pace has changed dramatically in the last 12 months, and UNIX faces a focused competitor who needs to spend very little time in committee meetings. The UNIX community must respond by picking up its own pace, or bit by bit, in the same gradual way that it ascended to the throne, it will fade, split and be replaced at the center of the castle."
Grove concluded, "Consolidation is crucial, for UNIX vendors, rather than splitting. My plea as a customer is for you to set aside your differences and deliver a multivendor, enterprise-capable operating system that will ensure that our investment in UNIX has a life."