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Unisys Unveils ‘Top Gun’ Mainframe Computers

March 6, 1991

NEW YORK (AP) _ Unisys Corp. unveiled mainframe computers Wednesday it called the ″top gun″ of commercial computing, but industry analysts were skeptical whether the machines would help the company pull out of its slump.

Unisys said its new models are the world’s fastest for what is known as on- line transaction processing, the rapid use of a computer to check or update customer records such as is done by reservation agents and bank tellers.

Unisys says its machines are the fastest according to benchmarks established by an industry group called the Transaction Processing Council.

Analysts called the technology behind the computers impressive, but said Unisys customers and potential customers may be more concerned about the company’s financial health.

Unisys, the nation’s third-largest computer maker, lost $551 million last year on revenue of $10.1 billion. It is burdened by a huge debt that forced it to pay almost $450 million in interest payments in 1990.

Unisys, based in Blue Bell, Pa., plans to sell certain assets and use the proceeds to reduce debt but so far has not announced any such sales.

Unisys Vice President Carl Masi told a news conference here that the company traditionally receives about 85 percent of its revenue from existing customers. It plans to tailor the new machines for uses in specific industries, such as banking and phone companies, to broaden their appeal among new customers, he said.

Users of other brands of mainframes would be reluctant to switch to the new Unisys models, despite Unisys’ claim that the machines will be cheaper to operate and faster than the competition, said Robert Kidd, an analyst at the high-tech research firm Dataquest Inc.

That’s because it is extremely costly to transfer applications programs written for one brand of mainframe computer to another brand. In addition, some customers may be wary of Unisys’ future, he said.

Mainframes are a huge investment - the new Unisys models will go for $5 million to $26 million, and software can cost even more - and customers need assurance that the manufacturer will be able to provide support and service, Kidd said.

Unisys’ chief mainframe competitor is International Business Machines Corp., which is the world’s largest seller of the powerful, closet-sized computers favored by large corporations and government agencies.

The new Unisys machines use a technology called massively parallel processing, in which a number of processors, the ″brains″ of computers, work on a problem at once instead of just one or a few processors in a traditional computer.

The models also process instructions out of order, instead of in the sequence they receive them. They send instructions to the next available processor instead of waiting for one instruction to be finished before moving on to the next one.

Jim Cassell, an analyst at the research firm Gartner Group Inc., called the technology three to five years ahead of the competition.

The new models, called the A19 series, will be offered in several versions. They are the new high-end models of the mainframe computer line of the former Burroughs Corp., which changed its name to Unisys after acquiring Sperry Corp. in 1986.

Unisys also maintains a separate line of mainframes inherited from Sperry. It plans to upgrade those machines later this year.

Unisys stock closed unchanged at $4.37 1/2 in New York Stock Exchange trading.

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