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Unisys floats mainframe cloud

A ClearPath to the development skies

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A mainframe cloud may seem oxymoronic like a lead Zeppelin ("a" included on purpose), or intuitively obvious (given the virtualization and metering capabilities that have been in mainframes for decades). But Unisys has nonetheless fluffed up a mainframe cloud for its ClearPath mainframe customers.

The ClearPath Cloud Development and Test Solution is exactly what the name suggests: a platform as a service cloud running on Unisys ClearPath mainframe supporting OS 2000 (Sperry) and MCP (Burroughs) platforms. Mainframes are not cheap, and getting a new one just for programmers to hack and compile their code is a pricey proposition, and one that also limits the enthusiasm of independent software vendors. Unisys thinks it can get a nice recurring revenue stream by giving its ClearPath customers an alternative to buying a development box and having it do nothing most of the time.

The dev and test cloud is the first of a number of platform as a service (PaaS) offerings that Unisys expects to roll out on the ClearPath mainframes. But Bill Maclean, vice president of ClearPath portfolio management at Unisys, said that Unisys has no plans to deliver a raw infrastructure as a service (IaaS) cloud on mainframes. Unisys does not think selling raw partitions on ClearPath mainframes and then letting customers load MCP or OS 2200 and then their application stacks would be useful. The ClearPath mainframes already come with utility-style metered pricing (as well as the traditional hardware acquisition with perpetual licenses and maintenance for systems software), so a ClearPath IaaS would be a bit redundant. In a sense, a ClearPath mainframe with metered pricing is an internal IaaS product already.

What makes a dev and test cloud useful to developers is the fact that Unisys can roll out slices of mainframes with specific releases of operating systems, databases and compilers so coders can create and test their code on multiple releases without having to do any of the reconfiguration work on the mainframes themselves. This is precisely why VMware's Workstation and then GSX Server and ESX Server hypervisors took off. The ability to quickly change the environment and do recursion testing on applications was a boon, considering how time consuming it is to reconfigure a physical server.

The ClearPath Cloud for development and test is hosted at a Unisys data center in Eagan, Minnesota. Slices can be configured with MCP release 12.1 or 13.0 or OS 2200 release 12.0 or 12.1. All of the Unisys compilers are included with the price of the cloud slice, as is an Eclipse-based integrated development environment and a Java stack. If ClearPath shops have third party tools they use in their app stacks, they can upload these into the development and test slice. Customers can upload their applications and data over the Internet or send Unisys the files on tape of DVD media to get them on the cloud. The ClearPath Cloud slices sell in three-month blocks. The base cloud slice is rated at 25 MIPS and has 8MB of main memory (all you need to write and compile code) and 75GB of disk capacity; it costs $13,000 over the three months. The current plan is to have it available by the end of the third quarter, but it could come out earlier, says Maclean.

The ClearPath Cloud for dev and test is derived from an existing Software as a Service (SaaS) product that Unisys has been selling for more than two years - a Logistics Management System created by Unisys and used by several airlines to manage their air cargo. This cargo management system, which runs atop OS 2200, manages about 35 per cent of the cargo flying around the US, Maclean says. Over time, Unisys plans to add more SaaS applications, based on both MCP and OS 2200, to its cloud and peddle them as services. ®

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