MIPS Alliance on UNIX servers

In the late 1980s, Bull was in a hurry to identify partners for high performance UNIX servers.

MIPS was a serious candidate. Its RISC architecture, developed by John Hennessy, from Stanford was a serious alternative to IBM's and RISC was offering a high end single processor the RISC-6000. Bull was interested to secure  a partner using its know how to develop its own product line replacing eventually the DPX/2 based on Motorola 68000. The failure of Motorola to offer a RISC engine (the 88000 failure) brought all Motorola customers to go shopping elsewhere.

In 1989, Bull decided to base its UNIX high end on a SMP computer with the R-4000 a processor being designed by MIPS. In the mean time, it planned to buy OEM the R3000 based servers and workstations and the R-6000 ECL high end servers.

Several engineers, lead by Jacques Talbot (from Bull Echirolles) and Angelo Ramollini (from Bull Pregnana), joined the MIPS design team in California, in early 1991, to help to adapt the R-4000 for a SMP server. MIPS wanted essentially a financial partner and, hoping that it could help securing a substantial investment, Bob Miller, then CEO, offered a seat on MIPS board to Francis Lorentz. MIPS also courted many computer companies and embarked Siemens, Control Data, Digital Equipment, Silicon Graphics and Nintendo on its architecture. Another coup was the agreement with Microsoft to get MIPS architecture as being a development base for Windows/NT. MIPS had its chips manufactured by several small silicon founders in the US (LSI Logic, IDT), but also it got NEC semiconductor that aimed the Nintendo market as well as its own UNIX market.
The MIPS informal consortium wanted to create an alternative standard to Intel and set up the ACE (Advanced Computing Environment) system standard, based around R-4000.

The relations with Bull did not go well. The R-4000 processor was delayed in 1990 and Bull became nervous about the high performance servers competition with IBM and HP. Bull suspected that the DEC commitment was temporary, the Alpha DEC proprietary was emerging. The relation with Microsoft let Bull suspecting a lack of commitment for UNIX. The MIPS/NEC relationship was even a reason for suspicion, Bull already dependent on NEC for GCOS8 did not want to open the door to Japan in the low-end. The Bull's shareholder, the French government, would be satisfied of a Japanese connection, after the take-over of ICL by Fujitsu. So, in May 1991, Bull decided to investigate other solutions.



Revision : 13 juin 2002.