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Unisys soups up mainframe engines

MIPs on the cheap

Add Xeon and Linux as needed

The Libra 780 can run MCP across all of the processors in the box in a single image, and the machine can scale down as low as 300 MIPS with one core activated. And like all ClearPath mainframes, Unisys allows customers to slot in Xeon-based cell boards and run Windows or Linux on them and to hook these Xeon engines tightly through the backplane to mainframe workloads. The Libra 780/790 box only supports x64 cell boards using Intel's "Dunnington" Xeon 7400 processors, which come in quad-core and hex-core variants. (These cell boards are sold in the ES7600R servers, which debuted last September).

Each Libra 780/790 mainframe cell board sports from 4 GB to 128 GB of DDR2 main memory, which is formatted down to 3 GB to 96 GB of addressable memory for MCP workloads. (Presumably there is some memory sparing magic going on). Each processor module supports up to 16 GB of physical memory and 16 Fibre Channel I/O ports and 8 Gigabit Ethernet ports. The Libra 790 metered machine can span from as low as 105 MIPS to 3,640 MIPS in metered mode and has the same memory and I/O options.

The Libra 780/790 machines are available now, and a base configuration costs $3.3m.

On the Dorado (OS 2200) side of the ClearPath product line, Unisys is launching a geared-down box aimed at midrange shops that need somewhere between 600 and 800 MIPS of capacity and who don't expect to grow their workloads beyond 1,000 MIPS over the next couple of years. The Dorado 740/750 machine uses geared-down versions of the dual-core CMOS engine used in the Dorado 780/790 line, and then also cuts back on the I/O ports and memory expansion. MIPS for MIPS, the midrange Dorado 740/750 box will be about 12 per cent less expensive than an equivalently configured entry Dorado 780/790 box, according to Maclean.

The Dorado 740 offers between 150 and 1,000 MIPS of raw performance and the Dorado 750 delivers between 50 and 700 MIPS of metered performance. Compared to prior midrange Dorado boxes, the Dorado 740/750 has twice the networking throughput and 1.5 to 2 times the I/O capacity, which is what Unisys mainframe shops are often more concerned about than MIPS. The Dorado 740/750 line has a starting price of $2m and is also available now.

For the truly budget conscious OS 2200 shops, Unisys is kicking out a new Xeon-based OS 2200 mainframe, the Dorado 4050, which is rated at between 10 and 60 MIPS. The Dorado 4050 uses the same goosed I/O subsystems as the true CMOS mainframes, and compared to the IX4500, IX4600, and Dorado 140 mainframes that are five or more years old - the target customers for the Dorado 4050 box - this entry machine offers 128 per cent more CPU capacity and 300 per cent more I/O capacity.

Given the clock speed of the Xeon chips (at least compared to the old Unisys mainframes), even with emulation overhead, Maclean says that the single-thread performance improvement is "dramatic." Batch jobs run a lot faster and interactive response times get a lot better. The performance is so good, Maclean says that some IT shops using its older mainframes will be able to eliminate a shift of workers who babysit batch jobs as they run.

By the way, the Dorado 4050 hardware is not based on the "Monster Xeon" ES7600R server that Unisys co-designed with NEC and launched last September. This is peculiar, but Maclean says Unisys is using a different four-socket "Tigerton" platform that fits into a 4U space. (It is probably a Dell box with the labels scratched off). The Dorado 4050 has 2.93 GHz Xeon 7350 processors and two cores in the box are allowed to run OS 2200 (which is a 36-bit operating system).

The machine is configured with 64 GB of main memory (which is mirrored for data protection) and is formatted to the 4 gigaword (GW) format used by OS 2200. The box has eight Gigabit Ethernet interfaces, for 146 GB drives for firmware and OS 2200, and I/O expansion module with its own I/O processor, and a PCI expansion channel module that supports eight Fibre Channel ports and four SCSI ports. In a base configuration, a Dorado 4050 costs $420,000, and it is only available as a metered box.

In addition to the new servers, Unisys is also rolling out MCP 12.1, which in addition to supporting the new Libra iron also has an upgraded version of Unisys' Eclipse tools that interfaces with its COBOL development tools as well as Java tools. The DMS2 database that comes with MCP has some tweaks, as usual, and there are the usual performance and security tweaks that all operating system makers do. OS 2200 12.0 also rolls out today, with support for COBOL in the same Eclipse tools and some tweaks in the DMS hierarchical and RDMS relational databases used with OS 2200 platforms to allow the databases to scale better on multithreaded iron.

Unisys is also shifting to lower-cost specialty engines to support Java workloads. In the past, like IBM, the ClearPath specialty engines were really mainframe engines with cheaper prices that could only run restricted workloads, not full operating systems and databases. To give customers better bang for the buck as well as faster time to market, Unisys is now deploying its licensed version of the Sun HotSpot JVM and JBoss Web application server on x64 iron that has multiple parallel connections back into the MCP and OS 2200 mainframes.

As far as applications are concerned, this x64 appliance is an MCP or OS 2200 mainframe engine, much as Java accelerators created by Azul Systems attach to mainframe and Unix boxes and run Java code but the applications are none the wiser about it. These JProcessor appliances cost $15,000 for the base box and the integration back into the Unisys mainframes. Customers have to pay for JBoss support separately.

Unisys today is also announcing a new specialty appliance called the QProcessor, which is the same x64 box that has been equipped to run IBM's WebSphere MQ message queuing middleware. Unisys had worked with IBM to port WebSphere MQ natively to OS 2200 mainframes a number of years ago, but MQ is a very intense workload and mainframe shops don't want to pay millions of dollars to run it. Moreover, as IBM tweaks WebSphere MQ (which most customers run on x64 iron), Unisys is always scrambling to port its tweaks to the Dorado iron and OS 2200 operating system, which is a pain in the neck. The Q Processor appliance fixes this.

Unisys is also announcing today that its ePortal specialty engine, which is still native on MCP and OS 2200 machines, has been tweaked so it can feed COBOL applications out to Apple iPhone and iPod machines with their touch screen interfaces.

Finally, Unisys is adding support for EMC's Symmetrix V-Max disk arrays for the ClearPath mainframe lineup starting today. ®


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