Intergraph Maps Out Its Future with NT

In October 1991, Intergraph began looking for an open platform that could help the company reach beyond its existing audience of UNIX customers. As one of the world's largest developers of CAD software, Intergraph unanimously embraced Windows NT, which was just coming into existence, because it combined the popular look and feel of Windows with a system robust enough to handle the company's technical applications. Intergraph made the UNIX-to-NT migration on three levels: Software developers, hardware resellers, and users all played a part in making the migration work.

Intergraph began the migration by moving its technical software applications from UNIX to NT and converting its hardware platform to the Intel microprocessor running NT. At the same time, the company began migrating its corporate business applications to NT. So, Intergraph has been on both sides of the NT migration story­the company was converting its products and replacing its corporate business platform.

Several factors influenced Intergraph's decision to develop software on the Windows platform. The company had found a market for selling its RISC-based Clipper workstations with UNIX applications, but it needed to broaden its audience to grow its business. Intergraph didn't consider going to another UNIX platform such as HP-UX, IRIX, or Solaris because of the amount of work involved to port its programs to these platforms. Intergraph also knew that even if the company ported its applications to all these platforms, the market still wouldn't be big enough for Intergraph to pursue.

About the time Intergraph began looking at new markets, Intel introduced the 486 chip­a fast, inexpensive processor that did acceptable floating point operations and offered the performance required for technical graphic applications. Intel's low price point let 486-based machines easily enter new markets. Many vendors, including Intergraph, offered Intel-based machines, and Intergraph realized that the hardware platform was the key to extending the company's reach to a broader audience than it reached with its UNIX-based machines.

From a software developer's standpoint, Intergraph knew it had to develop programs to run on a Windows-based platform because Microsoft was so pervasive on the desktop. Intergraph turned to NT because it provided the popular Windows user interface, 32-bit addressing, and other functionality that Intergraph required for its mission-critical applications. Intergraph no longer faced the question of whether to move to NT, but rather of how to move to NT.

Intergraph's vision was to move to an open platform, to make use of all the capabilities within that platform, and to concentrate specifically on the company's core competencies. The first step was to minimize the amount of code development so that Intergraph could get on NT as quickly as possible. Intergraph had more than 100 million lines of UNIX code (at least half of this amount was user interface-related code). The company adapted this code to run on NT. Unlike developing for UNIX, Intergraph realized that it didn't need to add capabilities such as its proprietary Object Manager (OM) to NT. For example, NT has an outstanding object system with Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) and component object model (COM) and an excellent 2D and 3D graphics system.

Five years ago, most of Intergraph's revenue came from UNIX applications running on Clipper machines. Last year, 79 percent of the company's revenue came from sales of Windows and DOS applications running on Intel-based platforms. Intergraph has completed the hardware move to Intel and is performing all new development with Intel processors. All new Intergraph machines ship with NT.

Intergraph is also helping customers who migrate to NT by addressing the issue of getting the new applications to work with old applications or replacing the old software. Intergraph has created its AccessNFS Solutions family of interoperability products to help with the migration process.

Intergraph's corporate NT conversion took place hand in hand with its product conversion. The company purchased new hardware for every employee and retrained everyone on new software tools such as Microsoft Office and PC-based email. Throughout the migration, Intergraph learned that the hardware costs, although substantial, are probably less of a consideration than purchasing new software, retraining personnel, and restructuring support functions.

Along the way, Intergraph learned a few things about migrating to a new operating system. Intergraph felt comfortable with its decision to move to a Windows-based platform because the operating system is pervasive and provides a good base for software development. Ultimately, these features mean that Intergraph can protect its customers' future­open platforms with persistent software architectures and supporting client/server designs (including Web-based designs) are key to providing what customers need.

Intergraph ultimately sees the issue of whether to migrate to NT as a cost of doing business. Can companies afford not to move to NT? Companies that don't migrate might be left behind.

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