Smooth Segue

Value-added integrator

Even before NeXT delivered the final version of NEXTSTEP 3.1 for Intel Processors on May 25 at NeXTWORLD Expo, systems integrator Continental Computer Systems was supplying one of its major customers with fully configured white hardware that worked right out of the box.

Continental has nearly a decade of experience in consulting, custom programming, and configuring UNIX systems on industry-standard hardware. "We built our reputation on building the best multiuser UNIX systems in the world that run on an Intel platform," says Sales Manager Joe Bacher. Prior to signing on as a NeXT business partner, those systems were configured with SCO (Santa Cruz Operations) UNIX. Now that NeXT has made the move to industry-standard hardware, Continental is committed to bringing NEXTSTEP to its "extremely demanding" customer base.

"Ninety-nine percent of our business is SCO or other UNIX vendors," Bacher says. "But I suspect that within a five-year period, the NeXT portion of our business will be the largest part of our business, because NEXTSTEP is the most exciting UNIX operating system available today, and the world just needs to understand that."

One person who already does is Rodney A. Bouchard, Continental's director of business development, the person specifically focused on evangelizing the benefits of object-oriented technology to both existing and new customer sites. "I understand the need to stay ahead of the curve," says Bouchard, "getting applications developed on time, within budget, and with integrity. I believe the object-oriented model that NEXTSTEP provides is the best thing I've seen for making sure that takes place."

Despite some initial concerns over NeXT's financial viability, Continental's decision to offer NEXTSTEP eventually resulted from NeXT's ability to provide the systems integrator with a leadership position in the emerging market for object-oriented solutions. While Continental evaluated offerings from nearly all of the major system-software vendors, only NeXT delivers a product that could meet the needs of its customers today. "Our typical customer is the large corporation that is trying to make the transition from the old legacy systems to client-server computing," says Bouchard. Although it was only a rumor at the time Continental signed on with NeXT, the Object Enterprise alliance with Hewlett-Packard was another important selling point.

Continental's value-added approach to systems integration is a natural fit with NEXTSTEP's ability to unify the desktop. As it had once done with SCO UNIX, the company took a hard look at how it could improve NEXTSTEP: The development tools were strong but could be better, and the environment was lacking in information-management, connectivity, and system-administration tools. To improve the development tools, Continental came up with the Connect Kit, the heart of which is Wan Manage, a program that provides a framework for network administration and an easy way to manage UUCP connections. Connect Kit also includes software that allows NEXTSTEP systems to read disks from Sun and other UNIX workstations.

For developers, Continental is bundling a suite of tools from Meriden, Connecticut-based Software Services & Solutions that Bouchard says accelerates NEXTSTEP development "to warp speed." Also, the Connect Kit includes a set of palettes that can be used with InterfaceBuilder and DBKit, a graphical revision-control system, and a tool that can compare two source-code files and detail the changes. The QuickBase SQL server, developed by SofDesign Solutions of Greenwich, Connecticut, is a turnkey database solution that works with DBKit.

In addition to its own custom-built hardware, featuring machines from desktop to tower models, Continental sells a version of the Intel GX a white computer that is strikingly similar to the discontinued NeXTstation. "We have the pre-beta release of the driver for its sound box, the new ATI drivers, and the new SCSI drivers. We stay on top of what's coming out and try to stay in front of everyone else," says Bacher. "We're not afraid to integrate something before it's officially part of the product."

This forward thinking is also evident in the decision to open a NeXT demo center in its Newington, Connecticut, office, which Continental hopes will become a regional hub for showcasing both NEXTSTEP in particular and object-oriented programming in general.

NeXT needs partners like Continental to get its software deployed in enterprisewide solutions, and through its expertise and aggressive approach, Continental is helping open doors that were formerly closed to NEXTSTEP. "Customers are telling us that they haven't found a vendor with a strong UNIX background who could bring to the table not only software knowledge but also thoroughly tested and developed hardware solutions. It seemed like a natural segue for us to take our skill set and put it on the NeXT platform."

by Lee Sherman