Compaq has ditched support for the Windows NT operating system running on computers based on its 64-bit Alpha processor.
Industry observers see the move as an interesting reaction to a problem the vendor was faced with - how to make sense of a multi-platform computing product to customers and resellers alike.
Having melded with Tandem and Digital, the US giant has found itself with three distinct product sets: Intel-based servers and desktops; Alpha-based servers and work stations; and high-end, fault tolerant servers known as Himalaya.
Within this gamut of hardware was an equally complex product. It appears that Compaq is keen to group its products under the banner of its eBusiness packages.
There has been speculation that Compaq was planning big things for Alpha and Windows NT, but the decision to end support for Windows 2000 and a 64-bit derivative of Windows NT next year came as a shock.
The vendor's entire Microsoft range, both 32-bit and 64-bit, will now come from computers based on Intel chips. Compaq will push Alpha as the platform from which customers will be able to take its own version of Unix - known as Tru64 - into the data centre.
Alpha will also assume the architectural role of enhancing the performance of the Himalaya fault tolerant server. Tom Yeates, director of Alpha enterprise servers at Compaq EMEA, said: "We won't cease to support Alpha.
"But with the success of NT on Intel and the fact that four-way and eight-way servers are delivering the performance customers want, we see no need for NT on Alpha."
Compaq will target its eight-way ProLiant 8000 and ProLiant 8500 servers at customers of four-way servers running Windows NT 4 Server Enterprise Edition.
To shelter sales of these servers from interference, Compaq is deliberately downgrading its Alpha business. The company wants to remove any confusion over what systems customers should buy, as well as differentiating Alpha as a Unix platform and Intel as the platform onto which businesses should deploy Windows NT now, and Windows NT and 64-bit Windows NT next year.
In the short term, the channel can expect the Service Pack 6 (SP6) for the Alpha version of NT4 from Compaq and Microsoft, but that will see the end of software development.
Although Microsoft is trying to make Windows 2000 Release Candidate One available for Alpha, the software will never actually see the light of day. Compaq claimed that, as far as its channel is concerned, this was the best course of action, allowing it to control inventory and remove any user confusion.
Mark Tennant, Windows NT product manager of Microsoft UK, said the software giant would respect Compaq's decision. "They are talking about support up to SP6, but Microsoft is looking at customer feedback and may support them past this."
The channel's reaction to the move has been one of indifference, highlighting the lack of NT adoption on Alpha servers. David French, Compaq product manager at Ideal Hardware, said: "With the launch of the ProLiant servers, the need for an Alpha-NT server has been removed. After a small drop in Alpha sales, the overall effect will be positive due to revenue coming in from ProLiant sales."
Trevor Pugsley, hardware marketing manager at Computacenter, added: "The company has never done much business in Alpha on an NT platform, so there will be little or no effect on it."
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