A May-December marriage: Of all the system integrators it could have chosen to settle down with, why did Apple choose Unisys as its go-to-enterprise partner? One is riding high on record profits and its highest market valuation ever (about $281 billion, not too far off the world's most valuable firm, the $338 billion ExxonMobile). The other reaps just 1/16th the revenue (and shrinking), and is past its prime by a quarter of a century.
It's as if the sexy, young AND rich bride got married to the dull, older, penniless man. Why not pick IBM, HP/EDS, Sprint Nextel, or any of the other 28 services firms larger than Unisys?
While I wouldn't argue that this is a marriage of equals, Unisys does bring a few things to this alliance, upon closer inspection (full disclosure: Unisys and SAP, Sybase's parent company, are also partners).
1) Tremendous reach into government. Unisys has long been a major supplier to government agencies. This goes back way before its two predecessor firms, Sperry and Burroughs, merged in 1986, creating the second-largest tech firm at the time ($10.5 billion-a-year revenue, 120,000-employees).
Sure, it's no CSC or Northrop Grumman, but Unisys still supplies $2 billion worth of services annually to government and military branches, including $1 billion a year to the U.S. federal government. This is an area into which Apple has little reach. And there have been a growing number of governments deploying the iPad (22, according to the online list I co-maintain with Jim Siegl), along with favorable anecdotes like this.
2) Surprising innovation. Unisys has more than 60 years of history in mainframe computers. That's been its entryway into many of its customers, who have no plans for moving off their rock-solid Big Iron, but still want to stay current.
Unisys is satisfying those customers. In March, it began connecting its ClearPath mainframes to iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads, enabling field workers to access data from mainframes in what Unisys says is a secure fashion.
3) No channel conflict. Apple already has a large partnership with AT&T for its iPhones and iPads that de facto covers small business and many enterprises. It just began selling iPads through Verizon Wireless. It has enlisted a select number of smaller integrators to help it sell iPads and iPhones to businesses. And it sells to consumers and smaller businesses through its physical and online stores.
Long story short: Apple has more partners today targeting businesses and governments than it probably has ever had. While a giant like IBM or Sprint Nextel offers much more immediate scale, it also creates much more conflict with its existing partners (especially via Sprint Nextel).
While Apple and HP did partner on the HP-branded iPod, that was an unsuccessful deal that lasted only a year. Now, the two firms compete too heavily in PCs and soon, smartphones, for the two to consider marriage again.