Unisys Brings Home-Grown Virtualization to ClearPath Mainframes

Unisys is introducing its sPar virtualization technology on its ClearPath mainframes that take advantage of specialty engines on the systems.

Unisys is bringing its own virtualization technology to its mainframe systems, giving businesses what one company official called an "enterprise-class" virtualization solution.

Unisys on Oct. 19 unveiled its sPar (secure partitioning) technology on its Intel-based ClearPath mainframes, offering enterprises greater and more consistent performance and security in virtualized environments. That's crucial, given the types of workloads that run on these machines, according to Bill MacLean, vice president of ClearPath portfolio management for Unisys.

With sPar, businesses can guarantee service levels and greatly reduce the risk of downtime when compared with other virtualization technologies from the likes of VMware and Citrix Systems, MacLean said in an interview with eWEEK.

"If you're dealing with enterprise-level applications ... you can't have those kinds of risks in the system," he said.

Unisys also introduced two new mid-range ClearPath models-the Libra 4100 Series running the CMOS operating system and Dorado 4100 Series running the OS 2200 platform-which will feature the sPar technology.

The sPar virtualization solution takes advantage of special purpose processors known as specialty engines. Like the specialty engines IBM uses in its System z mainframes, those in Unisys' ClearPath systems are designed to offload particular tasks from the primary Intel Xeon processors. The ClearPath ePortal for MCP and ePortal for OS 2200 enables workers to access the mainframe resources from such devices as Apple iPhones and iPads.

The JProcessor specialty engine is aimed at Java workloads, and Crypto offers extra levels of data encryption for high-security applications. The QProcessor enables enhanced information exchange between systems using IBM's WebSphere MQ Server messaging.

The sPar technology can divide the system into four separate partitions based on the primary Xeon processor and three specialty engines. A key differentiator for Unisys is that each partition-with dedicated processors, memory and I/O capabilities-essentially is a full, secure server, MacLean said. That compares to virtualization solutions from vendors like VMware, which when running in distributed environments portions out parts of a processor and networking resources to virtual machines, he said.

With sPar, "there's no sharing [of resources]," MacLean said. Each partition owns all the resources, and all are managed by the ClearPath operating system. In addition, communications between the components run at memory speed, which is faster than over traditional network connections, he said.

"The commodity technologies out there simply won't meet the requirements" of mission-critical applications, MacLean said.

The Libra 4100 Series will be the first mainframes to offer the sPar technology, he said. The technology will arrive later on the Dorado 4100 systems, where sPar is part of the architecture, but not yet qualified, MacLean said.

The Libra 4100 mainframes-four-socket systems running six-core Xeon 7500 chips-offer significant improvements in performance over the current 4000 Series, according to Unisys. Single-image capacity increases from 800 to 1,750 MIPs, and singe-processor performance from 200 to 300 MIPs.

Networking and storage capabilities also are improved in the new systems, which also offer mirrored memory and redundant hot-plug power and cooling, MacLean said.