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Michael Dell wants a piece of your enterprise network, and Windows NT Server is one of the tools he'll use to get it. The founder, chairman and CEO of Dell Computer foresees a day when NT Server-running on his company's hardware, of course-will "gut" mainframes, push UNIX to the brink of extinction, and kill any reason to even consider the network computing devices promoted by Oracle and its allies. That may sound like wishful thinking, but Dell has made a career out of turning his wishes into reality: His $5 billion PC powerhouse started as a direct-mail delivery service he ran out of his college dorm. In an exclusive interview, Dell met recently with WINDOWS Magazine Editor Michael Elgan and NT Enterprise Editor Joe Panettieri to lay out his plans to lead NT to the promised land of enterprise computing-and leave the competition in the dust.
WinMag: There's been a lot of talk about Windows NT Server's momentum within corporate America. Is it merely hype, or are NT Server sales really going through the roof?
Dell: Servers are the fastest growing part of our business. Our [server sales] grew more than 130 percent in our most recent quarter, and Windows NT Server represents about 70 to 80 percent of those sales.
WinMag: How are you competing with other server makers, such as Compaq, in the NT space?
Dell: As the industry moves to open server architectures, the value-add will be shifted from a vendor's hardware architecture to other factors, such as distribution. Our direct sales force model will offer a key advantage, and we've also got a big network of system engineers in the field who can visit customer sites.
WinMag: Have you announced any plans to support NT clustering?
Dell: We've endorsed Tandem's ServerNet technology for Windows NT and demonstrated our servers using that clustering software.
WinMag: What about supporting NT on the desktop? Compaq has already formed a division that builds workstations based on NT and the Pentium Pro. Will you follow its lead?
Dell: Servers are taking a lot of our focus and energy, and we don't want to screw that up. We haven't formed a workstation division, but the only thing different between Compaq's NT workstations and ours is that [some of Compaq's systems have a] 3-D graphics card. We're selling lots of dual Pentium Pro workstations running NT to financial customers and software developers. I've even got one on my desktop.
WinMag: Is Dell using NT on its own servers?
Dell: Our servers run UNIX, NetWare and NT, but we're going to standardize on NT Server rapidly. A number of our customers-including some financial services firms, airlines and utilities-have already standardized on NT.
WinMag: What does NT's momentum mean to UNIX?
Dell: UNIX will keep getting pushed up higher and higher into a smaller and smaller niche as NT gains more of the server market. That's how the Network Computer (or NC, a diskless computer that taps server applications) argument got started in the first place.
WinMag: Care to expand on that?
Dell: You have to understand vendor motivation for the NC. If Windows NT succeeds, [UNIX and mainframe vendors such as] Oracle, Sun and even IBM will face all kinds of problems. To counter NT, Sun and Oracle want to sell you NCs linked to UNIX servers running their software, but the argument for that is full of holes. If you've already gone from UNIX to NT servers, then forget about going to Sun's JavaStations [an early NC] because that requires going back to UNIX. Everyone's going to NT. And if you're going to NT, you're not going to a JavaStation.
The NC has other problems. Since it doesn't have a hard drive, how do you use it on an airplane? Where do you get the applications when you're not on the network?
WinMag: It sounds like you're pretty optimistic about NT, long term.
Dell: There's every opportunity for NT to gut the mainframe business within five to seven years. We're going to help make that happen.