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Unisys makes a tilt at converged infrastructure and containerisation

Reference platforms on the way to allow other server-makers to spread the love

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Unisys is the latest iron-monger to make a run at converged infrastructure, or something that looks an awful lot like it.

The company walked away from proprietary silicon nigh-on a decade ago, concentrating on x86-powered “ClearPath” big iron instead. Last year, the company unveiled the first of a new range of servers named “Forward!” and today added four more models to the list.

Models 4150 and 4120 use the Xeon E7 4800 v2 and offer up to 48 and 60 processor cores, respectively, per node. The new 2080 and 2100 make do with the Xeon E5 2600 v2, support up to 16 and 20 processor cores and up to 12 partitions per node, with 384 gigabytes of memory per partition.

These rigs' nodes connect with an Infiniband backplane connecting the nodes. Storage can come from NetApp or EMC, but everything is sold in pre-configured and signed-off sets in much the same mode as an Oracle's appliances or other converged infrastructure setups. Forward! is aimed at applications like ERP that need scale, stability and a vendor with a track record of running mission critical apps at scale.

Unisys' talk of “partitions” is a reference to sPar, a mainframe-derived partitioning tool that the company now says offers “containerisation”.

Unisys' twist on the concept Docker has recently made so popular is to run different operating system instances on one processor, without a hypervisor. As explained to El Reg by Vic Herring, Unisys' Australia's ClearPath product manager for APAC and Japan, s-Par can tap into Intel's VT-x instructions directly. This arrangement delivers the resource-allocation fun of virtualisation, but with a lesser overhead.

Indeed, Unisys last week popped out research proclaiming that s-Par and Forward! kit (on NetApp storage) together deliver better and more stable throughput than “ an industry-standard virtualisation hypervisor.”

s-Par currently is currently bundled with Forward! Kit, but Herring told us that will change by the end of the year when Unisys publishes reference architectures allowing would-be customers (or kit-builders) to run up their own servers. At that point s-Par will become something one can buy as software.

With interest in containerisation running hot, Unisys will have a job to do explaining how its version of the technology differs from Docker's and similar efforts. That it can point to many years' operating in its preferred mode, often at very decent scale, won't hurt its prospects. ®

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