Unisys Corp. has begun its long-awaited push into one of the hottest areas for large-scale computing by unveiling a parallel-processing server.

Parallel processing is a type of computer architecture in which multiple microprocessors are linked to handle big computing tasks faster.

The systems are considered particularly useful to bankers for applications such as decision support and profitability analysis. Many financial institutions, including BankAmerica Corp. and Chase Manhattan Corp., use parallel processing.

After announcing almost two years ago that it would get into that market, the Blue Bell, Pa., computer company followed through last week with the introduction of a complete and open parallel-processing system to compete with those offered by the other major hardware vendors.

Unisys paired up with 25 other vendors - including Intel Corp., maker of the microprocessing chips at the core of the hardware - to develop and promote this new product, dubbed the Open Parallel Unisys Server.

For a company that has been typecast in the marketplace as a mainframe vendor, breaking into parallel processing is "the most important program and product announcement since the creation of Unisys almost nine years ago," said James Unruh, chairman and chief executive.

Though parallel processing has only recently come into vogue in banking, it is already a $1 billion per year business, on the strength of its acceptance by other industries, according to Alan Lutz, president of Unisys' computer systems group. The market for these systems is expected to reach $5 billion by 1998.

But even with the growing demand from sectors like banking, competition among parallel-processing hardware vendors promises to be fierce.

In entering the business now, Unisys faces several competitors who have a head start. These include International Business Machines Corp., Tandem Computers Inc., and AT&T Global Information Solutions Inc.

But being in the business does give Unisys a chance to ease into client/server-style computing while sticking to its strength, which has been large-scale computing products.

According to Mr. Unruh, the new product begins Unisys' transition from a "traditional computer company to an information management company."

The company, like other hardware vendors, has branched out into more consultative services, he said.

To underscore the increasing importance of this side of Unisys' business, Mr. Unruh said his company would "license the (parallel- processing) technology to all comers," even its rivals.

"Anyone who wants this platform can have it," Mr. Lutz echoed.

Rick Makos, a director in financial industry marketing at Unisys, said the company is in talks to test its parallel-processing system at two money-center banks that he declined to name.

Financial services companies have traditionally represented about 30% of Unisys' business, Mr. Makos said. Banks are part of one of the vertical markets to which Unisys will sell the new systems.

"We're a bit late," Mr. Makos admitted. "But the market really hasn't grown much yet" among banks.

In the last quarter, he added, Unisys received six requests for proposals from banks seeking to consider it for parallel processing. The parallel-processing system - built in eight processor blocks - ranges in size up to 128 processors. An eight-processor system costs $685,000, Unisys officials said.

Howard Richmond, a consultant who covers high-performance computing for the Gartner Group, hailed this as strong offering by Unisys.

"They've taken the Pentium chip and a Paragon back plane and built a first-class computer system," he said. "Unisys has clearly recognized that need to get into commercial parallel processing."

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