January 27, 1998 8:15 AM PST

Digital bets on Windows NT

Digital Equipment (DEC) today will take a big step toward betting its future on Windows NT, announcing that it's placing its two server architectures under the Windows umbrella, while entering into a broader strategic relationship with Microsoft.

Digital chairman Robert Palmer tomorrow appears on stage with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates to tout Digital's commitment to the Windows NT operating system. As part and parcel of this statement, Digital is releasing a new generation of NT servers today that do not distinguish by product name between servers based on Intel processors and those based around Digital's own Alpha chips.

The new Digital NT servers will all have a similar naming scheme, regardless of the chip architecture. The Server 3200, for instance, will employ an Intel 266-MHz Pentium II processor. The Server 3300, on the other hand, will contain a 400- to 500-MHz Alpha, Digital's own high-speed processor.

This marks a break from the practice of dividing server lines along architecture boundaries, and may also signal a shift toward the Intel chip architecture for Digital. To date, Digital's Intel based servers have been called Prioris servers; Alpha-powered boxes have gone by the name AlphaServer.

This comes a day after Compaq announced it plans to buy Digital for $9.6 billion.

In a massive legal settlement last year, Digital transferred its chip fabrication plant to Intel and said it would adopt Intel's upcoming 64-bit chip, code-named Merced. Those terms, according to many, signaled a slow death for Alpha.

The new Digital Server line runs the gamut of price points. At the low end, the company will offer the Digital Server 1200, a 233-MHz Pentium II system starting at $1,935. The high end, meanwhile, will consist of the Digital Server 9100, which will be capable of holding eight Pentium II processors and start at around $29,000. The Digital 7300, a one-to-four-processor 500-MHz server starts at $19,705.

The meeting between Palmer and Gates takes place in San Francisco Wednesday and reaffirms both companies' commitment to the Alliance for Enterprise Computing. Started in 1995, the alliance was one of the first strategic alliances struck by Microsoft to migrate NT into the back end of corporate networks. Under the agreement, Microsoft agreed to train hundreds of Digital service personnel on Windows NT. In turn, Digital agreed to promote NT as an operating system to its hardware customers.

Last year Microsoft struck a similar deal with Hewlett-Packard, diluting the significance of the Digital deal and leading some industry observers to wonder whether Microsoft was turning its back on Digital.

 

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