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  1. Technology
April 23, 1992


By CBR Staff Writer

Bull to take the lead in extending IBM’s RS/6000 line with multiprocessing capability

Determined not to be viewed as another Wang Laboratories Inc, Groupe Bull SA took the time to clarify to journalists its position regarding IBM Corp and the RS/6000 last week at its Les Clayes-sous-Bois research and development centre in Paris. Unveiling the new DPX/20 line of systems, currently just RS/6000s with a Bull badge on the front, the company revealed that it would begin adding its own design work to the systems by year-end. It also insisted that it was the lead partner working on multi-processing technology using IBM’s Power RISC chip, and that IBM would more than likely buy in the Bull work OEM for future versions of its own RS/6000s. Unlike Wang, which will effectively withdraw from systems manufacturing and become little more than a reseller for the IBM line, Bull will be taking up both the manufacturing and design rights it negotiated with IBM back in February the RS/6000 kit is presently coming from Vimercate with input from Austin, Greenock and various IBM France operations, but Bull plans to assemble eventually. It is already offering non-IBM peripherals for the DPX/20s, something that may enable it to undercut IBM’s pricing, and it intends to add custom features to the hardware, such as terminal support, before the end of the year. As for multi-processing, Bull says it has recently woken up to the fact that it has a lead over most of its competitors – the Motorola 680X0-based DPX/2 line has supported symmetrical multi-processing with up to four processors for years, and now claims to have cornered a leading 20% share of the symmetrical multiprocessing market. It is working with IBM and Motorola Inc (helping IBM with the new PowerPC RISC implementation) on both hardware and AIX software, so that users of the new version of the Power RISC will all support compatible multi-processing implementations – something should emerge during the first half of next year. By giving the kit to Bull, IBM has effectively kissed goodbye to the French market for the RS/6000.

Bull’s Power RISC kit may undercut IBM

Groupe Bull extended its line of Unix systems last week with the DPX/20 family, rebadging IBM RS/6000s to produce the DPX/20 Model 100 compacts, Model 400 desktops and Model 600 deskside systems. Prices start at around $6,500, and Bull says they will be very competitive with IBM’s, and perhaps cheaper, as Bull will not use IBM peripherals. There are 10 models, grouped into the 100, 400 and 600 Series. The 100s include the basic 110, diskless 115, mono 125 and colour 135 workstations, along with the 140 server, all using the 33MHz Power RISC. Then comes the 400 Series: 25MHz 430 server and 42MHz 450 models; and three Series 600 deskside machines, including the 25MHz 610, 33MHz 620 and 50MHz 650, equivalent to IBM’s Model 560, introduced at the beginning of the year. The operating system is AIX 3.2, IBM’s Unix implementation, renamed Bull Open Software/X. Although it will compete against IBM with the boxes, Bull said it would also be working to configure the machines specifically for its own markets, and hope to be able to offer them to its banking customers for branch systems, for instance, in conjunction with its proprietary GCOS transaction processing servers tied together through the Bull Distributed Computing Model (based on the Open Software Foundation’s Distributed Computing Environment). To help customers make the transition from its Motorola-based DPX systems, Bull says it will make sure the same software environments (databases and so forth) are available on both lines, and says applications will be source-level compatible. Only small numbers of the short-lived MIPS Computer Systems Inc R3000 product line were sold, and these have now been withdrawn. Bull also said it was committed to maintaining binary-level compatibility with IBM systems, including the future multiprocessors – which means establishment of an Applications Binary Interface that both will follow. It claims about 30,000 Unix servers in Europe.


x compliance for GCOS is moot

Despite its enthusiasm for Unix, Bull says it is committed to continuing support for its proprietary GCOS 6, GCOS 7 and GCOS 8 product lines, which are now positioned as specialised high-performance transaction processing servers, saving on costs by using as many common technologies to produce the three lines as possible. Unlike some of its competitors, Bull says it has yet to work out whether or not Posix compatibility for proprietary systems is anything more than a marketing gimmick, and so it has not yet embarked on the expensive process of adapting the GCOS operating systems to comply with Posix. Having re-vamped its DPS 6000, GCOS 6 minicomputer line last November, Bull this time added two new ranges to its DPS 7000 (GCOS 7) and DPS 9000 (GCOS 8) lines. The DPS 7000 Model 400s, supporting up to 1,000 users, are housed in a small cabinet and are said to bring small systems priceperformance advantages to the low-end of the GCOS 7 range. They include a co-processor turbocharger for database applications called the HRP (High Relational Performance) option, to double the speed of Oracle and later other relational databases – Oracle ran too slow on the Bull hardware. Out in June, they are around $180,000. The DPS 9000 Model 500s are also entry-level machines into Bull’s most powerful range of systems, and like the new 7000s, use Bull’s latest CMOS chip technology. Honeywell had abandoned development of GCOS 8 machines, planning to source them all from NEC Corp, which makes all the larger models, but Bull has reversed that decision. The Model 500s will be available from year-end, with prices starting around $360,000.

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Software technologies at Les Clays-sous-Bois

Much of the multi-processing work on the RS/6000s will be carried out at the impressive Les Clayes-sous-Bois research and development facility at Versailles. Bull has already detailed its Integrated Systems Management effort, based around the Foundation Distibuted Management Environment, and is now working on some of the first practical applications to run on top, writing them with the aid of Egeria, a graphical interface editor that cuts what would be a 200,000-line Motif application down to 10,000 lines. Egeria also takes advantage of Bull’s own library of graphics functions. Bull also has some multi-media projects in conjunction with Philips, through the Esprit MultiWorks project, and demonstrated an unannounced HyperPath authoring environment for multi-media applications, currently running on iAPX-86-based Unix systems, but also available for Windows, and soon for the IBM RS/6000. Bull said it continues to be part of ACE Consortium, but only as far as desktop iAPX-86 systems are concerned: it refused to be drawn over whether its relationship with IBM would result in it favouring OS/2 over Windows 3, saying only that Windows is what our customers are buying today. – John Abbott

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