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Whitechapel Press Releases

Excerpts from a Brochure of Whitechapel Press Releases, September-October 1984

THE ENGINEER: 13 September 1984

UK firm enters workstatlon fray

A SMALL East London computer company is about to launch its first product that will take it into a £300 million market dominated by US companies. Whitechapel Computers, set up with £1 million backing from the Greater London Enterprise Board and venture capital companies Newmarket and Baillie Gifford, believes it is the first UK company to enter into the personal workstation market.

Set up just over a year ago with seven people, the company has now topped the 20 employee mark and hopes to reach 70 next year. The company was established with the aim of developing and manufacturing the 32-bit workstation based on accepted standard components like the Unix operating system and Ethernet networking. The machine is now being built in the basement of the company's Whitechapel Road premises in the heart of London's rag trade area.

The market it has entered can provide rich pickings for companies. One of the leading companies in this sector, Sun Microsystems of California, was set up just over two years ago. Last year, its turnover was £30 million. This year, having now expanded into Europe, it is expecting a £75 million turnover. Formed by three people, it now employs 500 world-wide. By going for accepted components, Whitechapel is taking the same route which proved to be so successful for Sun. However, much of Sun's Success also comes from a number of original equipment manufacturer deals it has tied up which now account for 50% of its business. While the workstation market is estimated, by American research company Predicasts, to grow at an annual rate of 24% over the next three years, reaching £500 million in the US alone, it is through oem deals that Whitechapel can follow the same success route as Sun.

Peter Eustace

THE GUARDIAN: 14 September 1984

Silicon Alley goes posh

By Peter Large, Technology Correspondent

The GLC calls it Silicon Alley, and it was in the alley-cum-car park at the back that the deputy Labour leader, Roy Hattersley, yesterday formally opened the Whitehcapel Road's Technology Centre.

In fact, the four-floor, redbrick block opened for business more than two yers ago. Today it houses more than 20 small enterprises and partnerships, plus a computer training centre for adults.

Mr Hattersley said that without the GLC's Enterprise Board many of those firms would not have been born. The idea that the City was ready to provide investment was one of the sentimental myths of the 80s.

Complaining of the Government's vendetta against the GLC, Mr Hattersley said that firms wanting to lease the last couple of units in the Technology Centre were being prevented because the Government now insisted on managing every detail.

The Enterprise Board said yesterday that overall it had invested £32 million in its first 15 months, creating new employment at a cost of only £4,500 per job.

The showpiece of Silicon Alley is the Whitechapel Computer Works. This company employs 40 people so far and got its launching money from both sides of the great divide: £100,000 from the Enterprise Board and the rest from venture capital and government grants and loan guarantees.

WCW was begun by Bob Newman - a lecturer at Queen Mary College down the road and another computer scientist, Tim Eccles, who is the managing director. WCW is entering one of the most fiercely competitive of the newer computer markets. It makes a posh desktop work station aimed - at first - at the scientific community.

There are about 70 firms world-wide producing these powerful little computers with high-quality graphics. Mr Eccles said yesterday that WCW's key to success was price: £5,495 and three times cheaper than much of the American competition. That had been achieved, he said, by getting all the microchip power on one circuit board and therefore being able to use personal-computer manufacturing methods.

NEW TECHNOLOGY: 17 September 1984

Whitechapel works wonders

The big guns of the $1.5 billion a year European scientific and engineering workstation business will be hearing a lot about a newcomer from London's East End.

Just a few doors down from the Whitechapel Art Gallery is the Whitechapel Computer Works. Set up last year with just over £1 million in venture funding (most of it from the Greater London Enterprise Board), Whitechapel has developed a 32-bit Unix-based graphics workstation called the MG. The MG is based on National Semiconductor's 32016 microprocessor and in bench tests easily holds its own against the well-established Apollo DN300, ICL's Perq and the Sun 1 and 2 workstations. However, most important of all, it undercuts its rivals by up to two-thirds in price.

The brains behind Whitechapel are founders Bob Newman and Tim Eccles. Newman is Whitechapel's technical director and is just 30 years old and a lecturer in computer systems at Queen Mary College, London. With several years experience in advanced workstation architecture research, Newman has been able to design the MG to be a powerful, but extremely cheap, computer.

The secret, says Eccles - Whitechapel's managing director - is that there is only one printed circuit board in the MG, compared with the four or five in the competition's - so it's much cheaper to make. With an entry level price of £5,195, the MG delivers the Unix operating system, half a megabyte of main memory, 10 megabytes of hard disk, 17" landscape screen with, it is claimed, the same resolution as an Apollo DN300.

At the top end, Whitechapel offers a workstation with 1 megabyte of main memory and 45 megabytes of hard disk for just over £8,000. A comparable workstation from Apollo, but with just 34 megabytes of hard disk memory and a slightly slower screen refresh rate costs £26,000.

If Whitechapel is capable of marketing the MG successfully, it should become a serious contender for $400 million workstation business in Europe. That market, according to Computer Application Consultants, is growing at 40% a year and is expected to jump to 50% yearly growth to give a total European market valued at £1.5 billion by 1987.

With the MG priced so competitively, Whitechapel's marketing director, Michael Cole, believes the system will be able to compete in other markets. Its high-resolution graphics should make it ideal for running business graphics software.

At present the MG can support high-level languages like C, Fortran 77, Pascal, Cobol and there are plans to get the popular artificial-intelligence languages, Lisp and Prolog onto the machine before the end of the year.

Moreover, the computer is able to take IBM PC compatible expansion boards. The expansion boards will turn the MG into something like a Swiss army penknife predicts Cole.

The MG will be ready for shipment by the end of October, and the company claims to have the capacity to produce several hundred machines a month.

Perspective Design of Cambridge, which has developed a new 3D modelling package is particularly keen on the MG. Perspective's chairman, Martyn Horner, says: It's a beautiful computer, well designed, powerful and very aggressively priced. We will be able to run our 3D modelling system on it for under £10,000.

Says a salesman with Sun, a competitor of Whitechapel's: It's a great concept and promises to be a very competitive machine but they have got to prove they can sell it. That will be the ultimate test.

THE ENGINEER, 20 September 1984

East End Answer to Silicon Valley

OVER THE road from the 300-year-old Whitechapel Bell Foundry resides a fledgling company that is about to try and take on some of America's fastest growing companies. And the firm, Whitechapel Computer Works, would itself be more at home in California's Silicon Valley than in the heart of London's rag trade district.

The company was set up just over a year ago, very much in the style of its US counterparts, to try and break America's domination of the engineering computer workstation market both in the US and in this country.

The US market alone is estimated at £300 million a year and European demand could equal that figure. But the European market is also seen as the faster growing of the two because of the present under-penetration and it is speed of growth that is of key importance to the companies in this field.

A 40-man outfit based in east London may not sound like much of a threat, but two US companies which are now making large strides into Europe were little bigger than that a few years ago. In fact one of these companies, Sun Microsystems, did not exist three years ago. Set up with around £2 million backing, it now employs 500 people world wide and is anticipating a £75 million turnover next year. The other, Apollo Computer, will celebrate its fifth birthday next year and is expecting to be a £750 million turnover company by 1988.

Growth is crucial to these companies' survival. Barry Fidelman vice president of sales for Apollo said: The good news for companies in this field is that the market is huge. The bad news is they need to grow rapidly or they cannot survive. For Whitechapel the hope is that expansion will be part of the company's future. Cofounder of the firm, Tim Eccles, said: We are committed to world markets not just to being the most groovy manufacturer in Tower Hamlets. In most other respects the company has modelled itself on the likes of Sun and Apollo. Each company was created with backing of between £1 million and £2 million and each company was set up with a similar team.

Whitechapel was formed by Eccles and Bob Newman. After meeting up at Queen Mary College, London, where Newman was a lecturer, they began discussing the need for the type of machine the company now produces, and saw there was a market. Within a couple of months the company was in existence.

It was Tim who built the company, said Newman, I was the guy who built the machine. This approach was very similar to that of Vinod Khosla, a co-founder of Sun, who was working as chairman and co-founder of Daisy Systems, when he saw the need for a new form of workstation. He then got together with current company president Scott McNealy to help form the company and Andreas Bechtolsheim, who produced Sun's first workstation.

At Apollo, the team that formed the company consisted of Dr John Poduska, a founder of Prime Computer, David Nelson, who also came from Prime and Michael Greata, who was software development director at Prime.

The way these types of companies start up, normally through personal contact seeking out the right people, means the personnel can usually be traced back to a large company.

In the case of Apollo, Prime was a major source of staff. When Sun came over to Europe to set up an operation Digital found itself supplying a lot of the staff. In Whitechapel's case, Logica was the common point. Darryl Barbe, general manager of Sun in Europe and former European head of Digital, said that when people see colleagues go to other companies they start thinking there must be a good reason and so often follow, even though they are not enticed. In fact when Barbe left Digital he had to promise not to entice staff away.

In basic product strategy, Whitechapel has also followed the likes of Sun and Apollo. Rather than going for proprietary components each company has based its products on standard and commonly available components. Barbe believes this is very important for the companies because it speeds up development time. This is not just important for the manufacturers like Sun but for their customers. The market for engineering computer workstations splits into two - original equipment manufacturers (oems)and large. end users.

Oems incorporate the machines into their products. Many Computervision systems, for instance, consist of Sun workstations while many other computer-aided design turnkey systems consist of Apollo workstations. Because the workstations are designed around common components, the oem can easily incorporate these into his system.

The backing of an oem can be critical to a workstation company's future and in some cases large deals have literally made the companies. This was the case with the Sun-Computervision deal.

Whitechapel is following the American model in that it is going for oems and large users. However in some respects the company differs from its US counterparts. Whitechapel got its backing from the Greater London Enterprise Board and venture capital finance. Newman said: Before this we had a bit of support. We could have got a lot of investment to make an IBM PC compatible machine but that would have been disastrous. To convince people that the idea of a workstation was viable was an uphill struggle. If it was California we could have held our hands open and money would have fallen from the skies, Newman added.

The machine produced by Whitechapel also differs from the Sun and Apollo systems. One reason Newman became involved in setting up a company was he had been working on design problems with workstations and personal computers. Sun and Apollo were putting forward the idea of using a workstation as a personal computer, but at a high price, he said. 'I was interested in how you build machines cheaply. Newman chose to look at how personal computers rather than minicomputers were made. Because the personal computer manufacturers were making machines so cheaply, I took them as my model, he said.

Like the microcomputer companies, Whitechapel intends to subcontract much of the production, undertaking only the final assembly in its east London plant. Its American competitors have set up manufacturing plants of their own.

The approach taken by the UK firm makes it believe it can become a large company. By selling its systems at a quarter of the price of American systems or less, it believes it can shift larger volumes than the US companies.

However, while each company will praise its own system either because it is cheaper or it outperforms other models on the market - they seem to worry little about competition from each other. This could be because the market offers so much potential that there is room for them all. The market in systems for CAD is expected to grow at 60% a year.

Yet none of these companies intends to rest on past successes and development work is going on for the next generation of workstations. For, while they keep a wary eye on each other they also have to look over their shoulders at their big brothers like Digital, Prime and IBM. Barbe believes the larger companies will have competing products out in two years.

Which means that the new entrants will need to remain one jump ahead.

Peter Eustace