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Unisys updates its mainframes; commits to Intel

Unisys beefed up its ClearPath mainframe offerings and committed to Intel-only architecture for 2007.

Blue Bell, Pa.-based Unisys pumped up its ClearPath mainframe line this week, promising a 40% performance boost on its ClearPath Dorado Models 380 and 390, and Libra Models 680 and 690.

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As part of the update, Unisys rolled out new releases of its mainframe operating systems -- OS2200 and MCP. When mainframe vendors Burroughs and Sperry merged to form Unisys in 1986, MCP came out the Burroughs side and 2200 came out of Sperry. The new versions allow users to work with Microsoft Windows .NET, Linux and Java EE.

"They made a lot of good decisions in terms of allowing MCP and 2200 to work together with other operating systems. I think this is a good step down this path. I'm surprised they were able to do this very quickly," said Marian Ritland, chair of Unite, the Unisys user group, and development and operations manager at University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire. "They've been trying to bring those closer together where it makes sense."

One of the new features is new development tools that allow ClearPath programmers to deploy applications in .NET, Java EE and COBOL. According to Ritland, the ability to have software written for existing ClearPath environments is very attractive.

"What they're allowing us to do is connect with outside applications seamlessly," Ritland said. "We can work on creating new applications, rather than spending time retrofitting old applications to new environments."

The main driver for the ClearPath launch is keeping existing Unisys mainframe customers happy and willing to upgrade. While fulfilling the needs of existing customers is important for any IT vendor, it's particularly important for the mainframe world according to industry experts.

"In a way, the fact that Unisys isn't the 900lb gorilla is an advantage to us because they know that they're playing in a heterogeneous world," Ritland said. "They are big enough to serve customer base but not big enough to dominate it. That's been an advantage."

Roadmap for '07: Intel Iron

In addition to the ClearPath update, Unisys announced plans for its roadmap through 2007. The company said it will be exiting the custom CMOS business -- currently used in its ClearPath products -- and plans to run all of its hardware on Intel Corp.'s Xeon and Itanium offerings.

Ritland said she thinks the move is a good idea for Unisys if it can get the performance out of Intel. She said the move would free the company up from working on chip designs, and allow it to focus on other areas.

But according to Charles King, principal analyst with Hayward, Calif.-based Pund-IT, there are challenges for server manufacturers that develop products based on Intel only products.

"For Xeon, all of the vendors have access to essentially the same chip, and the majority are based on the same chip set. So what's the difference between server A vs. B or C?" King asked. "Itanium is a tougher sell. The market for that processor is so nascent -- it's a tiny fraction of the total server market."

Joe Clabby of Clabby Analytics agrees. "Itanium has become a niche chip for high-end number crunching applications. Is there a market for Itanium scale up systems? I think the market has already spoken."

In addition to committing to Intel, Unisys is rolling out its own hypervisor next year. The Unisys virtualization software will allow users to run Windows, Linux, MCP and OS2200 on a single partition.

Clabby said that Unisys' move to take on development in this area is a great idea. "Microsoft has been slow to move into the virtualization market place; the fact that Unisys has to build its own, highlights that deficiency. It's also better than relying on open source."

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