Unisys cranks out kicker CMOS and Xeon mainframes
Yes, Virginia, companies still use mainframes
Server maker Unisys is today announcing its second generation of dual-core ClearPath mainframes. These use the company's own CMOS-based mainframe engines and new midrange mainframes based on Intel's Tigerton quad-core Xeon 7300 processors, sporting the same OS 2200 and MCP operating systems that run on the CMOS iron.
A lot of talk in the server market is about processors, but for the kinds of online transaction processing workloads that mainframes and other kinds of big iron boxes run, memory and I/O bandwidth is in many ways more important. And that is why COBOL applications persist on mainframes made by IBM, Unisys, Bull, Siemens, NEC, and Fujitsu, aside from the whole technical and economical issue of porting applications. But single-threaded performance on processors is important for batch processing, which is why mainframe shops always welcome faster engines.
Unisys is the result of the merger of the Sperry and Burroughs mainframe companies. The ClearPath Dorado line runs Sperry's OS 2200 operating system, while the ClearPath Libra products run Burroughs' MCP operating system. For many years, a variant of MCP has been available for Xeon-based machines running Windows, which is used as a kernel and file system for MCP. Last year Unisys ported its OS 2200 operating system to a Linux kernel so it can run on X64 processors.
The engineers at Unisys have created their own instruction set translation layer on these X64 platforms - similar to QuickTransit from Transitive - that translates mainframe instructions to X64 instructions and therefore allows COBOL applications compiled on CMOS engines to run unchanged on the X64 iron.
The net result today is that Unisys mainframe shops which need the most bandwidth and which want real CMOS mainframe engines can buy Dorado 700 or Libra 600 machines. Those that can get by with less MIPS and bandwidth can use midrange and entry Dorado and Libra gear built atop Xeon boxes.
Today, Unisys is rolling out a new ClearPath mainframe, the Dorado 700. It's based on a Unisys-designed, dual-core CMOS mainframe engine rated at 525 MIPS and fabbed by IBM. The chips used in the Dorado 700 line have about 17 per cent more oomph than the engines used in its predecessor, the Dorado 300s. Up to 32 engines can be added to a single box, and OS 2200 supports single images as large as 5,700 MIPS. Customers who need more processing capacity can gang up to four systems whole using Extended Processing Complex-L (XPC-L) clustering software, to deliver over 20,000 aggregate MIPS. The Dorado 700 supports from 8 GB to 16 GB of main memory per cell board (there are eight in the fully configured box), which just shows you how skinny CISC boxes running COBOL can be in terms of main memory.
According to Bill Maclean, vice president of ClearPath programs at Unisys, the target customers for the new Dorado mainframes are those using two- or three-year-old OS 2200 mainframes and who are more I/O- than CPU-bound. Compared to the Dorado 180 line (three generations ago), the Dorado 700 has twice the I/O and network bandwidth. It also has about 2.3 times the CPU performance. While CPU performance has increased over the past few years, I/O bandwidth has hovered around 200,000 I/Os per second (IOPS). The Dorado 700 machines are now at 500,000 IOPS, thanks to a new subsystem. (Customers who bought Dorado 280 and 380 machines probably wish they could just upgrade their I/O and leave their CPUs alone.)
The Dorado 700 began quietly shipping to customers at the end of September and is priced at a whopping $4.5m in a base configuration, including processors, disks, I/O subsystems, and a complete OS 2200 software stack. Unisys says that, depending on the customer scenario, these Dorado 700 machines nonetheless offer from 50 to 200 per cent more bang for the buck compared to predecessors.
The other two new x64 boxes, the Dorado 4000 and Libra 4000, flesh out the line with midrange mainframes. They fit between the CMOS mainframes above and the entry Dorado 400 and Libra 400 x64 boxes running OS 2200 and MCP, were announced last year and which do not pack as much of a punch on card-walloping COBOL workloads. The Dorado 4000 and Libra 4000 machines are based on the quad-core Intel Tigerton X7350 processor. These mainframes don't use the newer "Dunnington" six-core Xeon 7400s just announced and shipping in the NEC-Unisys "Monster Xeon" box announced a few weeks ago that spans to a maximum of 96 cores.
The Dorado 4000 has a maximum of 800 MIPS of processing capacity using the instruction emulation atop that Linux kernel, which is more than double that of the entry Dorado 400 machines. More importantly for OLTP workloads, the I/O subsystem in the newer x64 box can handle 72,000 IOPS, which is four times that of the Dorado 400 machines that sit below them in the product line. (This is obviously a lot less than the bigger mainframes can do.)
The Libra 4000 boxes are based on the same processor technology - the first time Unisys has been able to do this - and are rated at the same 800 MIPS in a full configuration. But MCP requires a different I/O subsystem, so this is different on the Libra boxes. Both machines have mirrored main memory for high availability, and Maclean said that in the first quarter of next year Unisys will deliver mirrored Dorado 4000 and Libra 4000 systems that come preconfigured with high availability clustering for OS 2200, and MCP workloads based on Unisys' own software.
The Dorado 4000 will begin shipping on October 31, and base configurations with storage and software will cost $498,000. The Libra 4000 will ship on November 17 and base setups cost nearly twice as much at $750,000. Considering the similarity of the iron, this seems a bit unfair. But, when you have your own legacy mainframe business, you can set your own prices.
For years, IBM has tweaked its zSeries and System z mainframe engines to support Linux, Java, and DB2 database workloads using so-called speciality engines. These engines have much lower prices - often a quarter the price of a real mainframe engine dedicated to z/OS work. The idea is to offload Linux, Java, and DB2 work to these cheaper engines to keep mainframe shops from dumping mainframes entirely and going with cheaper iron.
Now, Unisys is going to do something similar. But instead of using mainframe engines, it's going to create outboard appliances that hook into ClearPath mainframes to do some work not well suited to expensive mainframes. So there's now a 1U server appliance dedicated to cryptographic processing for Dorado and Libra mainframes, and the Libra customers are getting another appliance to run Java and Web services. These plug into the mainframes through normal network connections, and mainframe applications have no idea that OS 2200 and MCP are offloading this work to appliances. ®