Unisys Offers Sophisticated Uptime Guarantees

Unisys Corp. has come out with its uptime guarantee for systems running Windows NT Server 4.0, and, surprise, surprise, there are no nines to be found.

After IBM Corp., Compaq Computer Corp., Data General Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. offered 99.9 percent uptime guarantees, and after Microsoft Corp. put out a statement saying Unisys would do the same, Unisys instead offered customizable high-availability programs.

"Customers don’t care about 99.9 on NT," says Shawn McPherron, Unisys’ director of marketing integration and support services. "We can optionally provide the services and support infrastructure that would bring them to 99.9 or better. What we try to do is remove many of the restrictions that our competitors have placed on their guarantees, so it’s a lot easier for customers."

The Unisys uptime offerings bring three key service components to Windows NT. First is direct support for Microsoft business systems. While the 99.9 percent agreements from other vendors guarantee that Windows NT will be on the screen, Unisys’ mission-critical support package would guarantee, for example, that the Windows NT Server and SQL Server underpinnings of your custom financial application will be running when one of your users needs to execute a trade. Data General’s uptime offering also covers SQL Server. Unisys extends support to Exchange Server, Internet Information Server and other Microsoft business systems products.

Second, Unisys secured direct access to Microsoft’s highest levels of support. Unisys’ enterprise NT support team in Mission Viejo, Calif., will take emergency calls and first determine whether the problem is in the hardware. The Unisys team has privileged access to Microsoft’s records and fixes for known problems with Windows NT and Microsoft business software and combs that information next. If the team determines the problem has not been addressed, it bypasses normal Microsoft service channels and hands the problem directly to Microsoft’s top service people for work on a hotfix.

Third, Unisys will offer its service agreement, which includes a baseline guarantee of only one hardware failure per year, on single server systems. Other vendors uptime offerings so far apply only to clustered systems. Those agreements work out to less than 9 hours of downtime per year.

What Unisys has brought forward underscores the growing robustness of major companies’ service operations supporting Windows NT, which several analysts say has been the most important part of the 99.9 percent announcements in any case.

Analyst Harvey Hindin, director of high availability and clusters service with consultancy D.H. Brown Associates (www.dhbrown.com), applauds Unisys’ approach, which he attributes to the Blue Bell, Pa., company’s mainframe heritage. "Unisys is kind of taking the high ground and, in a sense, not playing the marketing game. They will come in, look at your system and work with you," Hindin says. "They can do that because they have sophisticated customers."

Unisys sells the mission-critical customer service program, including its direct access to Microsoft, as the Unisys High Availability Support for Microsoft Business Systems. A separate Unisys high-availability package includes the guarantee of only one unplanned hardware failure per year on single or clustered Unisys Aquanta servers.