Hardware Today: Unisys Server Snapshot

by Ben Freeman

Our Unisys server snapshot reveals that the vendor is remaining true to its mainframe heritage while taking a scale-up approach with its high-end Intel/Windows-based servers. The big question though, is where do Linux and lower-end servers fit in this equation?

Unisys has historically made its money in the mainframe market, so it's not surprising that it is remaining true to its high-end tradition in the Wintel server market. The company is clear about the importance of its scalable ES7000 line (which is based on Windows and Intel CPUs) and interoperability with its Clearpath mainframe systems.

Given its past, Unisys' strategy is a logical and easy-to-follow two-pronged approach. On one side, it sticks to its mainframe roots. According to John Keller, enterprise systems manager for Unisys, the company's highest selling servers to date are mainframes based on its proprietary MCP (Master Control Program) operating system.

On the other side of the equation, it's developing Intel-based servers in the mid- to high-end range that fill a mainframe space with Windows-based offerings. To round out the server picture, Unisys offers Windows interoperability with its MCP and OS2200-based operating systems, providing various migration points for companies looking to move forward in environments that were traditionally mainframe-based, but are pushing towards a more modular formula.

Focusing more on scaling up than scaling out, Unisys has centered its x86 efforts around its ES7000 series. "Unisys has been delivering scalable 32-processor systems since 2000 while competitors are still struggling to deliver that capability today," said Keller. "Unlike IBM, HP, Dell, and Sun," Keller said, "the Unisys ES7000 family of servers is focused on maximizing Windows enterprise capabilities."

Compared to other Windows-based server vendors, Unisys definitely charts its course for a higher altitude in terms of scalability. However, in terms of sheer revenue, the company remains below the Big 5 (IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, Dell, and Fujitsu) in server sales and falls into the 14.7 percent market share occupied by the "Other" category in IDC's "Worldwide Quarterly Server Tracker" for November 2003.

Sizing Up the ES7000
The ES7000 line (which has price points ranging from $35,000 to $750,000) is divided and then subdivided, which may be confusing at first. "From a technology perspective, the ES7000 family of servers is divided into two series: the 400 Series based on Intel 64-bit processors and the 500 Series based on Intel 32-bit processors," Keller said, adding that each series is subdivided further into Aries and Orion servers. Aries servers are aimed at mid- to high-end environments and include 64-bit Itanium-2 options.

"Aries servers are primarily for companies looking for Windows-based servers that deliver some level of greater scalability and performance than standard commodity servers. We've termed this 'the Windows growing up' market," Keller said.

Orion servers occupy an even loftier position in the Unisys server firmament and are aimed at companies that want to extend Windows servers into the data center, "but need levels of performance and availability that traditionally could only be achieve with proprietary, high-end, Unix-class systems," Keller said.

By concentrating its development on its high-scale ES7000 modular Wintel server line, Unisys is in a position to make gains if the economy further improves and enterprises become more willing to commit to higher-end Windows systems — where the vendor's strength truly shines. While many companies are still proceeding apace with 2-way 64-bit Itanium-2 offerings, Unisys' minimum offering here is a 4-way server.

Maintaining the Mainframe
Unisys Clearpath systems are divided up in a few ways as well, targeting each segment of the mainframe market. "Our strongest focus is at the mid-range and high-end, where MCP systems have a strong presence in the financial, public sector, communications and commercial segments," according to Mike Hall, manager of Solutions and Services for Unisys' ClearPath Systems Group. Hall adds that the older Clearpath OS2200 line has a strong presence in the same markets as well as the transportation market.

Though the market focus may be moving away from mainframes, Unisys' development efforts will continue to support those customers committed to the mainframe path. The vendor's Cellular Multiprocessing technology, which is designed to allow interoperability between its proprietary OS offerings and Windows Advanced Server (among others), will aid enterprises looking to receive full ROI on their mainframe servers, while moving in a more Wintel-friendly direction.

In its commentary, "Gartner Predicts 2004: The Future of the Mainframe," the research firm said Unisys mainframes will see further virtualization improvements. However, it advises new customers to steer their enterprises towards Unisys' ES7000 Aries and Orion lines: "The ClearPath mainframe systems remain relevant for established customers, both for continued use to run important business applications and as incremental or upgrade machines. In most cases, customers new to ClearPath should not adopt either OS2200 or MCP for new applications, instead looking to the ES7000 line and the Windows operating environment as the most strategic fit."

Going Mainstream: From Mainframe to Windows
Gartner Principal Analyst Jeffrey Hewitt said Unisys faces a challenge in its endeavor to make its MCP architecture a "compelling market story" beyond its legacy mainframe customers. "This is difficult for them, because their true strengths have been in the outsourcing and in the service and support areas. It's been a difficult transition for them to take what they know from mainframes and apply it [to Windows servers] and be highly successful," he said.

It's a good strategy if they can execute it," Hewitt said. "But the problem is it's going to be really a massive execution to bring this in and make it a mainstream kind of product, because they're competing against scale-out solutions of 1- and 2-way [servers], which have been growing and penetrating some of these spaces."

Unisys Servers at a Glance
Server Family
Target Deployment
Processor Types
Processor Range
Operating Systems
ES7000 Aries

Wintel servers that scale and perform higher than average, aiming at a typically Unix/mainframe occupied range, with 64-bit options (400 series)

Xeon, Itanium-2
4-16 Xeon,  4-32 Itanium-2
Win200X/AS, SUSE

ES7000 Orion

Similiar to ES7000 Aries, but aimed at higher end/data center, with mainly 32-bit options.


Xeon, Xeon MP, PIII
8-32 Xeon and Xeon MP,  560 allows Itanium-2 and PIII blades up 106 processors.
Win200X/AS, SUSE
ES3000 Less extensive, lower end line to augment ES7000 or Clearpath solutions, for "one stop" clients
Xeon, Xeon MP, PIII
1-4 Xeon, Xeon MP, or 1 PIII
ES3005 Blade,

Clearpath  (OS2200)
High end mainframes running OS2200, proprietary OS whose Cellular Multiprocessing (CMP) also allows integration of Intel-based processors and OS's. Still updated, but Gartner (and market trends) advise new customers to shop the ES7000 line.

proprietary Instruction Processors (IP's)
1-32 IP's, plus 1-24 Intel
OS 2200, with Windows AS, SUSE, or UnixWare.
Dorado 110,
Dorado 140,
Dorado 180,

Clearpath (MCP)High end mainframes running MCP, proprietary OS with CMP for Intel integration. Also features virtualization software to intermix Windows and mainframe workloads. Still updated; see Clearpath (OS2200).proprietary CMOS processors, additional onboard Intel CPU's

1-32 CMOS, 1-24 IntelMCP, MCPvm, Windows 200X AS/DC, Unixware, SUSECS7201,
Libra 180,
Libra 185
LX140 Laptop,
LX6000 ,

Intel-based (ES7000/ES3000) Servers

Server Family
Target Deployment
Processor Type
Processor Range
Operating Systems
Aries 510
entry level rack for  departments, data centers

4,6 or 8
Win200X/AS, Data Center,
Aries 520
mid-range for data center
8 to 16
Win200X/AS/Data Center,
Orion 530
scalable mid-range enterprise for clusters
8 to 16
200X Data Center
Orion 540
scalable beyond typical Intel range
16 to 32
200X/AS/Data Center,
Orion 550
scalable for mission critical apps, large DB's
Xeon plus PCI PIII blades

16 to 32 , up to 42 Pentium III blades
200X/AS/Data Center,

Orion 560
"N-Tiers in a box"-- allows combination of disparate Intel microprocessors
Xeon MP,  Itanium, Pentium
up to 106 processors, (32 Intel Xeon MP, 32 Itanium 2, and 42 Intel Pentium PCI Blades)
200X/AS/Data Center (32),  2003 Enterprise  (32/64)
2003 Data Center (32/64),
Aries 410
64-bit entry level, for developing new apps and rapidly growing DB's
Itanium 2

4-82003, Enterprise (64),
2003, Data Center (64),

Aries 420
64-bit, deploying large-scale DB's
8, 12 or 16
Aries 430
64-bit, develop/deploy mission-critical
apps, large DB's
8 to 32
ES3020workgroup server for SMB
2000, 2000 AS
ES3020LRack version of 3020
ES3005 Blade Server
PIII based blade in enclosure of up to 6
Pentium III
2000 Server,
2003 Standard/Web
tower or rackmount 7U business-critical server, for data center, etc.
Xeon MP (Gallatin)1-4
4U version of 3040, ideal for clustering, data center, etc.

Clearpath Mainframe Servers

Server Family
Target Deployment
Processor Types
Processor Range
Clearpath Plus for OS2200Dorado 110entry-level
proprietary Instruction Processor(IP), Intel
IP: 1, Intel: 1-8
OS2200, Win, SUSE
Dorado 140mid-range
IP: 1-6, Intel: 1-24
Dorado 180high-end
IP: 1-32, Intel: 1-24
ClearPath IX ServersIX6620mid-range enterprise
IP, Intel
1-4 IP's, 1-4 Intel
Clearpath Plus for MCPCS7201mid-range "modern" mainframe
Xeon or PIII
MCP, MCPvm virtualization, Win2000AS, SUSE
Libra 180"modern" mainframe- for high end
MCP, Intel1-40 MCP,  1-24 Intel
Libra 185most powerful of Unisys' "modern" mainframe designs- for high end
MCP, Intel
1-32 MCP, 1-24 Intel
LX ServersLX140 LaptopIntel-based laptop for MCP developers

LX6000compact, entry range Intel based server for MCP/Win2000AS environment at your desk
LX7100more robust Intel-based server for MCP environment
NX ServersNX6820, NX6830mid-range to high end; dual OS MCP/Windows 2000 AS (or NT) migration point for earlier A and NX-series servers
IP, Intel
1-8 IP, 1-10 Intel (more can be added)

To fill in the gaps between mainframe and high-end enterprise offerings, Unisys rounds out the stable with its lower-profile ES3000 line. With price points ranging from $4,000 to $80,000, the ES3000 line tangentially covers the scale-out range, referred to as the current market "sweet spot" by some vendors and analysts. Unisys, however, sees that range as supplemental to ES7000 or mainframe usage, and few Unisys customers deploy just ES3000 servers, Keller said.

Is Unisys Open to Open Source?
Another area in which the vendor makes a slightly hesitant offering is in alternatives to its Windows servers. While Unisys has also certified SUSE for its ES7000 line, it has apparent reservations about the efficacy of Linux-based solutions in their market range. In what would have been fighting words at last week's LinuxWorld Expo, Keller said, "Today Linux is unproven as a mission-critical, enterprise-class operating system. We recognize that there will be cases where clients require Linux on the ES7000 to complement the primary solution," noting that Unisys has directly partnered with SUSE for Linux support. "Unisys continues to monitor the maturity of Linux in general and reassesses our position on a regular basis."

Gartner's Hewitt suggests that a reassessment may be in order. Offering Windows to a Unix-weaned mainframe crowd, he contends, opens up a different can of worms. "Windows has yet to really be accepted as a mature operating system as the Unixes are," Hewitt said. "Windows is not accepted that way; the perception isn't there."

Hewitt further sees Unisys' reluctant entry to the Linux market as problematic. "The one area that I think they've lagged behind here, a little bit, is Linux. They certainly could have capitalized more on that area to show they've got a server that can handle Linux at these levels," he said.

The SUSE Linux support offered seems to round out Unisys' server line in a manner similar to the vendor's lower-end ES3000 server line. However, if its focus remains on scaling up to 32 Intel servers, more enthusiastic Linux support would seem likely.

The Pieces Are in Place
Given that the vendor's server offerings actually do cover the areas in question, any critique of the line would really be leveled at Unisys' message, rather than its substance.

Gartner's Hewitt contends that if Unisys remains focused on its core scale-up strengths, while refining the messaging surrounding Linux and its lower-end servers, it will grow into an increasingly viable strategy.

This article was originally published on Tuesday Jan 27th 2004
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