Technical and Commercial Dependencies:
Continuing the Story of Data General -the company featured in:
Kidder, Tracy (1981). The Soul of a New Machine. Little, Brown and
Company. Reprint edition July 1997 by Modern Library. ISBN 0679602615.
The report mentioned below is described in: Lock-in or No Lock-in? and concerns shifts in the computer industry away from
"vendor lock-in". Formerly almost all computer companies attempted to make their machines
different enough that when their customers sought a more powerful
machine, it was often cheaper to buy another from the same company.
This was known as "vendor lock-in", which helped guarantee future sales
even though the customers detested it.
Mr. de Castro agreed with the report, and future generations of the MV
series were terminated. Instead, DG released a technically interesting
series of Unix servers known as the AViiON. The name 'AViiON' was a
play on the name of DG's first product, Nova, implying "Nova II". In an
effort to keep costs down, the AViiON was originally designed and
shipped with the Motorola 88000 RISC processor, a chip with fairly high
performance, yet not as high as other processors of the time. To
compensate, the AViiON machines supported multi-processing, later
evolving into NUMA-based systems, allowing the machines to scale
upwards in performance by adding additional processors.
An important element in all enterprise computer systems is high speed
storage. At the time AViiON came to market, commodity hard drives could
not offer the sort of performance needed for data center use. DG
attacked this problem in the same fashion as the processor issue, by
running a large number of drives in parallel. The overall performance
was greatly improved and the resulting innovation was marketed as the
CLARiiON line. The CLARiiON arrays, which offered SCSI RAID in various
capacities, offered a great price/performance and platform flexibility
over competing solutions.
The CLARiiON line was marketed not only to AViiON customers, but to the
larger DG customer base, mainly those using the MV series. The upturn
in business from the CLARiiON line turned DG into a storage solutions
company overnight. When used together, the AViiON/CLARiiON combination
delivered microprocessor-based systems that outperformed traditional
minicomputers of the same generation, an idea many in the industry did
not anticipate would happen so soon.
The Final Downturn and EMC Takeover; Life After Death
Despite Data General betting the AViiON farm on the Motorola 88000,
Motorola decided to end production of that line. The 88000 had never
been very successful, and DG was the only major customer. When Apple
Computer and IBM proposed their joint solution based on POWER designs,
the PowerPC, Motorola happily picked up the manufacturing contract and
killed the 88000.
DG quickly responded and introduced new models of the AViiON series
based on a true commodity processor, the Intel "x86" series. By this
time a number of other vendors, notably Sequent Computer Systems, were
also introducing similar machines. The lack of lock-in now came back to
haunt DG, and the rapid commoditization of the Unix market led to
shrinking sales. DG did begin a minor shift toward the service
industry, training their technicians for the role of implementing a
spat of new x86-based servers and the new Microsoft Windows NT
domain-driven, small server world. This never progressed beyond a few
CLARiiON did better after finding a large niche for Unix storage
systems, and its sales were still strong enough to make DG a takeover
target. EMC Corporation, a major data storage company, acquired Data
General and its assets in 1999. Although details of the acquisition
specified that EMC had to take the entire company, and not just the
storage line, EMC quickly ended all development and production of DG
computer hardware and parts, effectively ending Data General's presence
in the segment. The maintenance business was sold to a third party, who
also acquired all of DG's remaining hardware components for spare parts
sales to old DG customers. The CLARiiON line continues to be a major
player in the market today, and is still marketed under that name. On
the World Wide Web, all that officially remains of Data General are a
few EMC web pages at the old Data General domain (http://www.dg.com
which only mention the latter company in passing.