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foreword - Volume 6 Number 2

CURRENT ISSUE - Volume 6 Number 2 Scott A. Gordon,
Manager, Strategic Programs,
Semiconductor Operations

Early in the development of the Alpha program, Digital's management put forward a strategic direction that would significantly shape the application and reach of Alpha AXP technology in the market. That direction was to make Alpha AXP technology "open." In making the technology open, Digital sought to provide a broader and richer set of products than the company could provide by itself and in so doing extend the range of Alpha AXP technology and the competitiveness of Alpha AXP products in the market. This represented a significant departure from the operating business model of Digital's successful VAX business, where the technology was proprietary to Digital. Accordingly, the Alpha program required significant changes to previous business practices. Ongoing interaction with customers and business partners helped shape and clarify these changes. The resulting initiative to make the Alpha AXP technology open consisted of three primary components:

  1. Digital would sell Alpha AXP technology at all levels of integration -- chip, module, system.
  2. Digital would provide open licensing of Alpha AXP technology.
  3. Digital would work closely with partners to extend the range of Alpha AXP technology and products in the market.

The first key element in opening the Alpha AXP technology was the decision to sell the technology at all levels of integration. With access to the technology at multiple levels of integration, customers and business partners can focus on their own development or application areas of expertise and extend Alpha AXP technology to new products or markets in ways that most effectively meet their own business needs. The three papers from Cray Research, Raytheon, and Kubota in this issue of the Digital Technical Journal are good examples of utilizing and extending the range of Alpha AXP technology from three different levels of integration.

The CRAY T3D massively parallel processor (MPP) system utilizes Alpha AXP technology at the chip level. Building on the performance leadership of the Alpha AXP microprocessor, Cray Research focused on key areas in the development of a leadership MPP system -- communication and memory interconnect, packaging, and the programming model and tools.

Starting with Digital's AXPvme 64 module, Raytheon adapted it to meet the extended environmental and reliability requirements for defense application. By starting with an existing module design, Raytheon was able to maintain software compatibility with commercial Alpha AXP systems, thus providing a very cost-effective way of deploying advanced Alpha AXP computer technology in a military environment.

Lastly, starting from the system level, Kubota developed an advanced 3D imaging and graphics accelerator for Digital's DEC 3000 AXP workstation systems. Using the basic system capabilities of the workstation, Kubota's 3D imaging and graphics accelerator extends the range of the Alpha AXP technology to high-performance medical imaging, seismic, and computational science applications -- even to the realm of virtual reality games.

The decision to sell at all levels of integration meant that Digital's Semiconductor Operations moved from being a captive supplier of microprocessor and peripheral support chips exclusively for Digital's system business to being an open merchant supplier. Concurrently, it also meant an expansion of Digital's OEM business at the module and system level. Whereas the business infrastructure was already in place for Digital to expand the board and systems OEM business, some changes were required to meet the needs of external chip customers in ways different from those established with Digital's internal system groups. Previously, technical support was provided informally, chip designer to system designer, while the development tools and supporting peripheral chips required for designing-in the microprocessor were often developed uniquely by the system group itself. Along with the marketing and application support resources required to support Digital's Semiconductor Operations as a merchant supplier, a full range of hardware and software development tools and supporting peripheral chips needed to be developed to support the family of Alpha AXP microprocessors for external customers. The fourth paper in this issue describes part of this "whole product" solution developed for the DECchip 21064 microprocessor -- the PCI core logic chip set and an evaluation board kit. Together, the chip set and the evaluation board kit (which includes OSF/1 or Windows NT software tools) provide customers the ability to develop Alpha AXP PCI systems with minimal design and engineering effort.

A second fundamental element in opening the Alpha AXP technology to the broad marketplace was to openly license the technology. A critical requirement of both chip customers and potential partners was that Alpha AXP microprocessors be available from a second source to (1) assure their security of supply, and (2) extend the range of chip implementations to broaden the markets served by the Alpha AXP technology. This is the basis for the Alpha AXP semiconductor partnership with Mitsubishi Electric Corporation announced in March 1993. Mitsubishi plans to begin supplying Alpha AXP microprocessors based on 0.5-micron technology to the open market by the end of 1994. In addition to the chip and architecture, Digital also licenses other elements of the Alpha AXP technology to meet the needs of our customers and partners, including Digital's OSF/1 UNIX operating system.

With access at all levels of integration and through open licensing, Digital sought and established multiple partner and customer relationships to extend the range of Alpha AXP technology and products in the market. From portable computing to supercomputing, from embedded applications to complete system solutions, over seventy-five companies are currently using Alpha AXP technology in their products. This issue of the Digital Technical Journal provides a sampling of the ever-broadening set of Alpha AXP products and applications enabled through open access to the technology.

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