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A quarter century of workstations: Fujitsu's made in Germany journey

In the beginning, there were UNIX workstations. Then the world's first Windows workstation. Then the first mobile workstation. Then the first 1U rack workstation. How was workstation history made? Read on.

Today, Fujitsu delivers high-performance CELSIUS workstations with the latest processors, newest graphics, large capacities for memory and storage, and ultra-quiet operation. Their workstations provide choices of new form-factors and support for legacy PCI equipment.  

 Fujitsu provides desktop workstations, mobile workstations, and remote workstations for the data center.  The workstations deliver reliability, certification and a range of affordability and power, 

Fujitsu offers services which allow for mass-customization and asset management across multiple product generations. Fujitsu delivers extraordinary IT security services. And the company engineers and manufactures CELSIUS products in the heart of Europe at their facilities in Augsburg Germany. 

This range of price, performance, formats and services doesn't happen over night. Fujitsu has been on the journey for a quarter of a century while navigating changes in markets, applications, technologies, and businesses.   Here is how that happened.

In the beginning, there was UNIX. For a second.

In the beginning,  the merger of Siemens and Nixdorf created the Siemens Nixdorf Computers AG in Germany in 1990. The company soon launched its first UNIX workstation using Matrox graphics. In 1992, Siemens Nixdorf partnered with the American workstation company, SGI, to produce 3D UNIX workstations. During the 5 years from 1990 to 1995, the company produced UNIX workstations using MIPS RISC processors. One of the special markets for these workstations was to service Siemens' own customers who were using Siemens CAD programs. 

About this time, Microsoft released the 32 bit operating system, Windows NT.  Intel was also releasing its 32-bit Pentium Pro processors. SGI worked with Microsoft, and OpenGL support was part of Windows NT. All of this allowed CAD applications to move from UNIX workstations to the new Windows NT operating system running on Intel processors with new 3D graphics technology provided by spin-offs and start-ups. 

So Fujitsu launched the first Windows and Intel workstation, the CELSIUS 1, in November 1995.

The Windows NT workstation market soon heated up. Competitors like Compaq Computers created a workstation group and launched their first product before the end of 1996.  The dynamic in the workstation market changed. UNIX workstations were dedicated systems. The new generation of Windows NT and Intel Pentium Pro (WINTEL) workstations created professional workstations based on consumer and enterprise technologies. UNIX and RISC workstations had nearly 2 decades of development supporting them, but the cost to develop each new generation of technology needed to be recuperated from a smaller market of dedicated systems compared to the WINTEL workstation market. The economics of product development were heavily tilted against the old guard UNIX workstations. 

An accelerated performance curve

Naturally, the first WINTEL workstations were not as powerful as the UNIX workstations of the day. But the platform offered a new & greatly expanded market for high-end CAD applications. Simultaneously, high-end CAD capabilities were showing up in native Windows applications. A group of CAD visionaries launched SolidWorks in 1995. The DOS-based animation program, 3D Studio moved to Windows NT with the release of 3D Studio Max in 1996. The future direction was clear.

The CELSIUS family grew accordingly. 1997 saw the release of the CELSIUS 1000 single-processor system and the CELSIUS 2000 dual-processor system. The company was ahead of its time, however. Most applications were not able to leverage parallel processing.  None the less, these systems were the first non-RISC, non-UNIX workstations to complete the SPEC organization's benchmarks and they delivered the highest performance results of any WINTEL workstation. 

By the end of the decade, the performance of WINTEL workstations was closing the gap with RISC & UNIX workstations. The 1999 generation of CELSIUS workstations, the CELSIUS 420 & CELSIUS 630 were the fastest of the Intel Pentium III and Pentium III-Xeon workstations. These systems were released in April, 1999.

That same year also saw the agreement between Siemens and Fujitsu to create a new joint venture, Fujitsu Siemens Computers. The new company become the second largest PC manufacturer in Europe. 

Workstations hit the road

The resources of the combined company created new possibilities. Fujitsu Siemens Computers developed and delivered a product that engineers take for granted today: a mobile workstation. The CELSIUS Mobile appeared in 1999. Not only was it the first of its kind, it also had specially designed, unique features including a magnesium chassis and a detachable keyboard.  The keyboard was linked to the workstation initially with an infrared connection and later with a Bluetooth connection. 

The CELSIUS Mobile was a true workstation. It included certifications for important design applications like Pro/ENGINEER, Unigraphics, ALLPLAN, and SolidWorks. It used a 400 MHz Pentium II mobile processor. It had up to 512MB of memory and a 30 GB hard drive. As a mobile workstation, the CELSIUS Mobile delivered over six hours of run time through the use of two batteries. Looking back one and a half decades, the specifications seem almost quaint, but in 1999, this was a road-warrior. 

Having created the mobile workstation market, Fujitsu Siemens Computers kept driving development. The CELSIUS Mobile 2 launched in 2001. In 2003, the company shipped the CELSIUS Mobile H and has kept the same branding for mobile workstations ever since that time.

Changing processors, 64 bit workstations, new form-factors, security, and a buy-out

The beginning of the century saw a robust and dynamic processor market for workstations. 64-bits came with Itanium. And then it went. AMD brought back 64-bit computing when it delivered a 64-bit architecture for servers and workstations with Opteron processors. During this time, Fujitsu Siemens Computers released the CELSIUS 800 with a 64 bit architecture based on the the Intel Itanium processor. Due in part to the short life-span of the Itanium processor, the company delivered a dual processor CELSIUS 810 using Opteron processors in 2004.  Competitively, Intel responded with its 64-bit architecture for Xeon processors. 

A number of years passed with repeated releases of desktop and mobile workstations. Throughout the continuous product development and release cycles, Fujitsu announced its intention to acquire the 50% portion of the joint company owned by Siemens. In 2009, the deal was completed, and Fujitsu continued its development and manufacturing in the heart of Europe. 

In 2012,  Fujitsu shipped its first workstation destined for the server room. The CELSIUS C620 workstation used a 1U server form-factor with workstation technology. It included key technologies to stream the high-performance graphics required by workstation users to remote locations inside or outside of the company. This new remote workstation market continues to develop and the company released the CELSIUS C740 in 2015 to succeed the C620. 

IT security issues became more and more important to Fujitsu customers in government and business. The company was one of the leaders in the field of R&D for IT security. Fujitsu developed a secure access technology based on palm-vein pattern recognition. The technology is non-intrusive, extremely accurate, very secure, and can be integrated into almost any device from an ATM to a secured room access control, to a mobile workstation. In 2013, Fujitsu released the first version of its Mobile CELSIUS H with its patented PalmSecure access control security feature. 

Back to the future

Which brings the story to the 2015 releases of the CELSIUS C740 remote workstation and CELSIUS J550 & W550 workstations. These new workstations show how Fujitsu R&D and manufacturing continues to deliver technology, performance, and ergonomic benefits to customers.

The company divides workstation development between Germany and Japan. The desktop and remote workstations are engineered and manufactured in Germany. The mobile workstations are designed and manufactured in Japan. The depth of the company's expertise adds value. For example, the Fujitsu labs perform 3D noise-level simulations. This provides design options for fan and cooling solutions. This allows for high performance designs with ergonomic noise characteristics. 

Having R&D, manufacturing, and logistics co-located in the German facility has enabled the company to create special services such as the Fujitsu "Made4you" program for mass customization and asset management during multi-year projects. The intensive R&D efforts of the company enable it to deliver full end-to-end IT Security solutions - the most secure in the industry. These last two examples apply to products outside of Fujitsu's workstation product line, but they are particularly valuable for the company's demanding workstation customers.

The CADplace perspective

Few companies have navigated the competitive waters as successfully as Fujitsu or shown the staying power of Fujitsu. Over the years, RISC workstation vendors like Sun, SGI, DEC and others have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Many WINTEL workstation competitors suffered the same fate.  Fujitsu has managed to keep a balance between size and nimbleness which has enabled the company to succeed during a quarter of a century of workstation innovation.