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Unisys gooses ClearPath mainframes

New Libra in the middle

Mainframe maker Unisys has boosted the process capacity of its ClearPath Libra mainframes, shooting the gap between high-end Libra models based on Unisys' homegrown mainframe engines and entry Libra models based on Intel's quad-core and six-core Xeon MP processors.

The new ClearPath Libra 750 machine announced today runs the MCP operating system, like all machines that trace their heritage to the Burroughs side of the mainframe house. The ClearPath Dorado machines run the OS 2200 operating system on different CMOS mainframe engines and hail from the Sperry side of Unisys. MCP has been ported to run as a layer atop Windows and also runs natively on x64-based servers.

A variant of OS 2200 has been tweaked to run atop a Linux kernel. Last May, Unisys announced the Libra high-end 780/790 mainframes, based on dual-core mainframe engines rated at 520 MIPS and giving about 5,500 MIPS in a single sixteen-core image. At the same time, Unisys also put out a geared down ClearPath Dorado machine, the 740/750.

(The 740 and 780 machines are sold with a fixed price on hardware and with perpetual licenses for the software, while the 750 and 790 machines are sold with a base price and a monthly metered fee on top of that based on the resources that customers actually use.)

This time around, the Libra line is getting geared down so smaller Unisys mainframe shops can get less MIPS, as the Intel-based machines have, but better single-threaded performance than the Intel boxes offer. This is important for certain customers, particularly in financial services, that have big batch runs to update their databases or to crank out statements on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. (This also seems to suggest that the MCP and OS 2200 running atop Xeon iron has a lot of emulation going on, eating up performance.)

You will note that this time around, Unisys is only putting a ClearPath Libra 750 mini-mainframe in the field, with metered pricing. Bill Maclean - vice president of ClearPath programs within the technology, consulting, and integrations solutions group at Unisys - says that metered pricing is overwhelming preferred by Unisys shops, accounting for 75 to 80 per cent of sales, and that with this launch Unisys felt it could do away with a more traditional hardware and software licensing sale. Mainframe shops like the lower initial sticker price, and Unisys likes the recurring revenue stream - just like IBM does with the metered pricing on its mainframe software.

Like IBM, Unisys gears down its mainframe engines in entry configurations and charges to turn more MIPS on, regardless of how the system is priced (perpetual software or metered use). The Libra 750 server comes in a 40U cabinet that can have one or two MCP processor modules. Each module has two dual-core mainframe engines, rated at 500 MIPS of raw power. (A little slower than the ones used in the Libra 780/790 machines.)

The Libra 750 spans from one to eight processors - and from 60 to 1,400 metered MIPS. If customers want to, they can turn all the latent capacity in the box on and use the full 2,000 MIPS. Each processor module comes with 3 GB of main memory (4 GB of physical memory, but reformatted to speak MCP words), and memory per module tops out at 24 GB addressable (32 GB physical.)

A Libra 750 supports symmetric multiprocessing, so those four CMOS mainframe processor sockets on two motherboards can be glued together to create a single system image of eight processors and 48 GB of addressable memory (64 GB physical). Unisys says the machines offer about 35 per cent more single-threaded oomph compared to prior Libra 585/595 servers.

Like other ClearPath mainframes, the Libra 750 has room on its system bus to plug in optional ES7000 partitions based on four-socket Xeon MP processors - specifically, the four-core E7300s and the six-core X7400s. While these cards cannot be linked into the CMOS engine SMP, they can use the bus to access the same data storage attached to the Libra mainframe and they can communicate with "native" MCP images over the bus to share data.

As you might imagine, the Libra 750 machines, considering the oomph they deliver on single-threaded mainframe apps, cost a bit more than the Xeon-based Libra 4080 and 4090 machines. Maclean says that the Xeon 7400-based Libra 4090 has an entry price of $500,000 for a base 30 MIPS and tops out at about 210 MIPS of effective single-threaded performance. The Libra 750 with its base 60 MIPS costs $1.3m in an entry configuration and offers 500 MIPS peak single-threaded performance, while the Libra 790, which has 520 MIPS of single-threaded oomph and scales up to 5,500 MIPS, comes in a base configuration with 105 MIPS turned on in a single engine for $2.1m.

With Intel's "Nehalem-EX" Xeon 7600s due in a little more than a week, it is reasonable to wonder what Unisys has in store for ClearPath machines based on these processors. The Xeon 7600s sport the new QuickPath Interconnect and up to eight cores per socket, another 33 per cent more than the 7400s, but probably on the order of three times the memory bandwidth. None of this will necessarily help boost the single-threaded performance of MCP and OS 2200 workloads, of course. All Maclean would confirm about Unisys' plans for the Nehalem-EX chips was that it had products in the works that will come out later this year.

In addition to the new Libra 750, Unisys is kicking out MCP 13.0, which, among other things, has between tweaked so Apple iPhone and iPod touch devices don't eat up too much processing power on the ClearPath mainframes as end users log in and out of the system as they access different applications from those devices. The ePortal Specialty Engine, which Unisys announced last May for Web services and mobile device access to MCP-based mainframes, has now been tweaked to automagically transpose MCP applications so they can be displayed on the Apple devices, and the middleware server also allows for elements of different MCP application screens to be mashed up into a single iPhone app.

Unisys offers remote helpdesk support, for a fee, to enterprise clients on PCs and laptops, and it says that it will soon be able to offer remote management for iPhones and iPods linked to MCP applications to resolve incidents that end users might have with these devices as they hook into the mainframes. Unisys is also adding more security (encrypting more data paths between the MCP apps and the iPhones) and monitoring of iPhone traffic as these devices talk to the ePortal Specialty Engine, which are basically two-socket Xeon servers that are managed by MCP as if they were mainframe engines running a Java middleware stack.

MCP 13.0 also includes support for native PHP Web applications interfacing back to the Unisys DMSII database for MCP. PHP is running on the JProcessor Specialty Engine that was launched last May as well, which was originally designed to support Java Virtual Machines and make them look like they were running natively on CMOS mainframe engines in the ClearPath boxes even though they run on outboard Xeon-based servers.

The Dorado OS 2200 variants of the ClearPath machines will be getting the iPhone/iPod Touch and PHP support later this year. ®

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