Harris Corp’s Computer Systems Division intends to dominate the niche market for real-time computing in the aerospace and defence industries with its NH range of computers – a range that it expanded last month (CI No 1,567). The range supports three compatible Unix operating systems: real-time Unix CX/UX, the real-time kernel CX/RT and secure Unix […]
Harris Corp’s Computer Systems Division intends to dominate the niche market for real-time computing in the aerospace and defence industries with its NH range of computers – a range that it expanded last month (CI No 1,567). The range supports three compatible Unix operating systems: real-time Unix CX/UX, the real-time kernel CX/RT and secure Unix CX/SX. The NH 4000 series incorporates an HVME bus because, says Harris’ director of marketing for Europe, Giuseppe Frigieri, customers wanted a standard input-output bus that could be souped up via dual buses. HVME is an expanded version of the standard interface VME and the company claims that it is not proprietary. Frigieri says that many users get frustrated by the input-output choke of VME and as they have their own in-house VME expertise, they can take advantage of HVME by building their own customised boards for it. Another feature of the NH 4000 series is the use of reflective memory, which enables users to bypass the problem of shared memory for real-time computing by offering a distributed shared memory. Using reflective memory each NH computer has its own shared memory connected to another computer’s memory via 180 foot cables. Data going into one computer is reflected in an external bus including its address so that the same information is updated at the same address. Each system can have 4Mb or 16Mb of shared memory. Frigieri says that beyond the 180 foot cable span, a customer is likely to be using FDDI or Ethernet for its networks. Harris’ UK sales manager Chris Kelly believes that the range sounds the death knell for proprietary systems in real-time computing. However, he swiftly added that Harris had a commitment to maintain its proprietary operating system VOS for 15 years and has no plans to discontinue support of VOS. Kelly made it clear that the NH range is supported by software compilers only for C, Fortran, and Ada and there are no plans to move into the thoroughly commercial Cobol market. Harris intends to play in the military, research and development, commercial in other words simulation , weather control and the like – and space markets. In what it defines as the commercial arena Harris says that it has not had historically a great deal of success in pilot training and does not intend to pursue this market as a big opportunity. Similarly, Harris says that while simulation is a technically fascinating area it is also a zone that can be described as commercially disastrous. Harris meanwhile is ambitious for growth by moving into other real-time markets where it believes it can add value. For example, it has a large contract with Raytheon Co for the development of its terminal Doppler weather radar system to monitor local weather conditions at airports – eventually, NH machines will be linked to aircraft cockpits and, ultimately, Harris wants to offer this system across the world. Process control is another area where Harris believes it can add value. This market used to be dominated by general purpose mini vendors such as Hewlett-Packard and DEC but Harris says that its real-time computers offer far better price-performance here than such vendors can offer. The collection of real-time seismic data is another area which Harris believes it can make its own, along with telemetry and data acquisition. However, Kelly made it clear that the NH range slots into a niche market between standard workstations and supercomputers and Harris does not intend to compete in either of these generic markets. Kelly says that Harris exercises a great deal of self-discipline in the contracts it takes up and often does not bid for contracts that are offered to it because they fall beyond high-performance, critical, real-time computing requirements. In short the customer needs to understand what real-time can offer before buying into the NH system. In terms of growing its markets, Harris is particularly pleased to have struck a volume purchase agreement with Ferranti Computer Systems, enabling it to act as a value added reseller bidding Harris into a lot of different markets
internationally. Of course, one of the problems a Unix acolyte encounters as a vendor is the difficulty of selling into an installed user base that is locked into a proprietary operating system – how do you safeguard that user’s software investment?
Well, aside from catering from its own proprietary user base VOS applications can run on the NH system – Harris claims that it has excellent in-house expertise and can convert applications developed for say, DEC or Concurrent Computer systems, to run on NH. Such software conversion is carried out on an individual contract basis and the company does not offer generic tools. It would seem that Harris Computer Systems is putting quite a polished act together by focussing on the NH range and pushing it into specific, well-defined markets. Furthermore, with the might of Harris Corp behind it the NH systems are not going to disappear overnight and have a reliable source of research and development funding. And, if the going gets tough in the real-time computing world, the division could always go out and actively market its software conversion expertise… – Katy Ring