There are three reasons why businesses continue to run many of their mission critical workloads on Unisys mainframes, according to Bill Maclean: the economics of the high-end systems make sense, Unisys continues to innovate and the vendor has shown a strong commitment to the platform.
Unisys is addressing the second two points with new and enhanced hardware and software technologies that are designed to hit on the first point, by enabling its Libra and Dorado mainframe lines to meet the changing demands of businesses.
"The reason why we keep the clients is because we keep refreshing the platform," Maclean, vice president of Unisys' ClearPath Programs, said in an interview.
Unisys on May 26 is announcing five new ClearPath models that are aimed at both the high-end enterprises and the entry-level market, and new specialty engines that support mobile users-including those using Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch devices.
The rollouts add to the one high-end and two midrange mainframes that Unisys unveiled in October 2008.
"These additional three [new mainframes] allow us to replace everything in our platform in less than a year," Mclean said. "We're going to keep rolling out new systems."
The announcements come at a time of rejuvenation for the mainframes, which a decade ago were considered a dying breed, done in by the rapid growth of distributed computing environments powered by smaller, x86-based servers.
However, the mainframe market is growing, and companies such as IBM and CA are pushing ways to not only keep the mainframes up-to-date-the specialty engines from IBM and Unisys are an example of that-but also to attract younger programmers to the platform to replace the older ones who are reaching retirement age.
CA in May rolled out the first deliverables of its Mainframe 2.0 initiative, including 1,443 upgrades to its mainframe management applications, and two weeks later offered a new software product to ease compliance management on mainframes.
For its part, IBM continues to expand the reach of its mainframe portfolio, and this year is celebrating 50 years of the mainframe.
Clay Ryder, an analyst with the Sageza Group, said much of the resurgence of the mainframe platform can be attributed in part of IBM's introduction of the z9 mainframe in 2005, which featured greater virtualization capabilities and specialty engines for Linux and Java workloads, and the z10 Business Class in 2008, which was priced for smaller enterprises.
"The specialty engines, for such things as Linux and Java, helped [show] the mainframe as a viable consolidation [option] for workloads that normally wouldn't be put on mainframes," Ryder said.
He pointed to the announcement in April by a Brazilian startup called Hoplon Infotainment, which is using IBM mainframe technology for the upcoming launch of its Taikodom multiplayer online video game, as an example of the expanding reach of the mainframe platform.
"Who would have ever thought of the mainframe as game console, though a massive one?" Ryder said.
New releases of the OS2200 and MCP operating systems include support for specialty engines, which essentially are integrated processors that take functions from the central system that expand the mainframe's reach by modernizing the application environments they support.
The ClearPath ePortal Specialty Engine enables mobile workers with intelligent devices-such as the iPhone and iPod Touches-to interact with existing ClearPath applications. The options for integrating the mobile devices include a plug-and-play capability that automatically creates the Apple's device's interface, the ability to customize Web-based ClearPath apps with an iPhone or iPod Touch look, and integrating iPhone apps with ClearPath solutions.
"This is in reaction to the changing work force, where mobility is the watchword and nobody really has an office anymore," said Unisys' Mclean. "They just move around."
For the ClearPath Dorado systems, the new OS 2200 QProcessor enables communication between systems using IBM's WebSphere MQ Server messaging technology, while the OS 2200 JProcessor-which complements the one already available for MCP-based mainframes-enables systems to run new Java applications.
The new mainframes, which use new processors and I/O subsystems, offer a 300 percent improvement in networking capacity and 200 percent jump in price/performance over older models. The high-end ClearPath Libra Models 780 and 790 and midrange Dorado Models 740 and 750 are powered by Unisys' CMOS processors.
The entry-level ClearPath Dorado Model 4050 is powered by Intel chips.
Pricing for the new mainframes range from $420,000 for the Dorado 4050 to $3.3 million for the Libra 780 and 790.
In addition, the OS 2200 release 12.0 and MCP release 12.1 offer enhancements in operations automation, application development, security and app modernization through SOA (service-oriented architecture) implementation.
The new mainframes also support EMC's new Symmetrix V-Max storage system, which offers incremental scalability.
Jean Bozman, an analyst with IDC, said Unisys has some very big, long-time customers that run their mission-critical applications on Unisys machines, and count on the vendor to continue innovating on the platform.
"These operating systems are so stable and so understood because they've been out there so long," Bozman said. "Most of the time, things go pretty smoothly with the mainframe, which is really the price of admission."