Unisys Looks to Unite Intel, Mainframe Systems

New computing architecture leverages partnership with NEC. New systems will start rolling out in late 2007.

Unisys is working on a new server architecture that will use virtualization and management software to unite its Intel-based and legacy mainframe platforms on the same systems.

The new architecture, announced June 27, will respond to what Unisys officials say is a growing trend toward a more scale-up environment—where customers put more workloads on fewer, larger systems—rather than scale-out infrastructures based on more and smaller servers.

"Scale-out has been running since 2001 or 2002," said Colin Lacey, vice president of Unisys Enterprise Server Group, in Blue Bell, Pa. "More recently, what were starting to see—with the real deployment of virtualization technologies in production environments—are configurations that are starting to scale up again."

Unisys cites numbers from analyst company IDC that project an 8.2 percent hike in the market for larger scale-up servers between 2007 and 2010.

To meet that expected demand, the company is leveraging its partnerships with NEC and Intel to create an architecture where not only Windows and Linux workloads, but also those based on Unisys OS2200 and MCP mainframe operating systems, can run simultaneously on a single system.

The initiative will help users save money through system consolidation and create a more flexible and dynamic computing infrastructure, Lacey said. It also will protect customers that have invested millions of dollars over the years in Unisys mainframe ClearPath systems, he said.

Jean Bozman, an IDC analyst in San Mateo, Calif., said Unisys move to merge its Intel-based and legacy mainframe environments and manage it through Unisys Sentinel software, makes sense.

"By having this common platform, they can pull all these things together, which makes it very efficient," Bozman said.

Unisys collaboration with NEC in hardware development also is a smart move, she said. It will enable both companies to pool their assets and get products to market faster.

"I see a lot of advantages in this collaboration," Bozman said. "In [research and development], they will be getting more mileage out of the dollars they have to spend."

Bozman said its part of a larger trend of hardware companies teaming up to leverage their R&D capabilities, such as IBM and chip maker Advanced Micro Devices, and Sun Microsystems and Fujitsu.

Unisys has been working toward this common platform for some time. In May, the company released the ES7000/One, a system that can simultaneously run Xeon and Itanium processors from Intel.

Unisys expects the first systems within the new architecture to hit the market late next year. They will be based on Intels Xeon and Itanium processors, with Unisys phasing out the use of its custom CMOS chips.

Those systems will feature Unisys homegrown hypervisor virtualization technology, which will enable the multiple operating environments to run on a single physical system. Currently, Windows and Linux can run on ClearPath mainframes but have to do so in separate partitions. With the new architecture, those operating systems will be able to run on the same system as OS2200 and MCP, with the system sharing workloads dynamically among all environments. The Sentinel management software will enable the dynamic allocation of workloads among the various compute resources based on policies put in place by the user, Lacey said.

Unisys Agile Business Suite software, which will be enhanced for the new architecture, will enable faster application development. The company announced the first step in this direction June 27, with integrated software tools for the ClearPath operating systems and .Net environments. More tools for Java Enterprise Edition will roll out later this year, Lacey said.

The company also announced new ClearPath Dorado and Libra systems, proof points that Unisys intends to continue investing in the mainframes, he said. The new systems—the Dorado 380 and 390 and Libra 680 and 690—will give users a 40 percent performance increase as well as new provisioning capabilities, such as capacity on demand and pay per use. Capacity on demand allows users to add processing power as needed, while pay per use is a metering technology that lets customers pay only for the power they use. The systems also can reallocate workloads across a single processor module if there is a processor failure.