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Considering Unix as a destination

IT directors in the 3000 marketplace assign directions these days, their guidance systems working like Google Maps or Mapquest. The destination they plug into their search:

Safe and reliable business computer platform to replace our HP 3000; must meet the requirements of a mission-critical-grade asset.

But most of these IT directors are adding a more direct address in their search.

Find the best Unix

The application drives the decision, but environment must pass muster, too. They tell their staffs or analysts or migration partners doing the search to look harder at Unix. Do not include the many Windows destinations, even when they decide to replace instead of migrate their corporate applications. Don't linger in the land of Linux. The former locales still don't feel safe enough for many HP 3000 IT managers, while the latter doesn't sparkle with the corporate patina you've come to expect from being a Hewlett-Packard customer.

In our ongoing review of Unix destinations that 3000 sites are taking, we'll keep our scope broad as well as innovative. Our path includes one solution not obvious to many IT directors at 3000 shops: The road to Apple's offering. It's notable because of how much the solution has changed in the past 12 months.

Simply put, Apple now offers the lowest capital-cost corporate Unix platform. And unlike its offering of the last five years — the time the 3000 community has been in search of a new corporate destination — Apple now is dishing up Windows-capable desktops to communicate with Unix-driven servers. You can get an unlimited-user license, Xeon-CPU-based Xserve that starts at $2,999. The desktops that use Intel's Core Duo chips can cost as little as $499, plus keyboard and monitor.

HP 3000 shops who have made the move to Apple's solutions — well, they have been more rare than a quarter with no major Windows service pack. The largest supplier of wrestling uniforms in the US, Fergo Athletics, has run their company for years with Macs after HP flagged on its march to keep the 3000 up to date technically.

You don't have to go very far to find a fan of Apple solutions here in The 3000 NewsWire offices. We have run our publishing company on these desktops since our first issue in 1995. Our main database has been a modest Filemaker design; plenty of small businesses use Filemaker.

But Apple has remained a desktop solution in the minds of many IT managers, at least up to now. By blending the Xserve hardware with the new Leopard 10.5 OS X Server environment, Apple means to tilt the Unix choice back toward what HP 3000 customers know: Owning a server. Adding applications. Patching infrequently. Not having a computer which needs to needle you about how much faster you might be running, if only you just turned on that extra capacity, the CPUs you already put a 20 percent down payment on.

InfoWorld reviewer Tom Yeager made a strong case this month for why Apple's Unix solution is different in a better way:

Xserve strikes the perfect chord with everyone, from the server neophytes and Windows refugees who want plug and play, to the Unix graybeards allergic to proprietary system software, equipment or development tools. Freed from the never-ending spending of Windows and the do-it-yourself shipbuilding of Linux, every single buyer of Xserve will end up doing more with Apple’s server than they had in mind when they bought it.

When you toss in what's possible now with Apple's desktops — installing Parallels software for $80 per Intel-based Mac, so the same machine can run either Windows or Apple's OS X applications — well, some 3000-migrating IT managers considering Unix will get back what they always wanted: Industry standards in Intel hardware and Unix, plus desktops that run the two best client environments in the world. All from the same vendor. That sounds like the Hewlett-Packard of the good old days, when a single vendor could provide everything your IT enterprise needed.