Hardware Today: Unisys Server Snapshot

by Ben Freeman

Although Unisys is one of the longest-standing players in the server market, its hardware revenue has largely given way to that of services. We examine the vendor's latest server changes and consider its place in the server market as a whole.

The nav bar on Unisys' Web site spells out the company's priorities and strengths in order alone, "Unisys: Consulting, Systems Integration, Outsourcing, Infrastructure, Server Technology." The last but not least positioning of "Server technology" is appropriate — equipment sales account for the smallest slice of Unisys' revenue pie. In the second quarter of 2004, for example, enterprise-class server sales accounted for $185.5 million — a mere 13.4 percent of the $1.39 billion in total revenue the vendor pulled in. Services, in contrast, brought in $1.16 billion, or 83.5 percent.

Recent Server Snapshots

This trend toward services results in Unisys' servers not getting as much exposure as those of competitors, which results in a further dwindling percentage of server sales and revenue. But sales revenue isn't the whole picture. While Unisys consistently resides in the "Other" category in the quarterly server sales comparison surveys, it's important to bear in mind that equipment sales are not its only line of business.

This week, Hardware Today explores the server arsenal behind Unisys' services. Since our last Unisys server snapshot, the vendor has diversified its high-end offerings, added support for Red Hat Linux, extended its Itanium-2 support, and added more robust J2EE-geared mainframes.

New Additions

The 24- to 32-way Aries 440 raises the line to 32-way Itanium heights, while its kid brother, the 4- to 8-way Aries 405, lowers the Itanium-2 entry point to 4-way altitudes.

"We're moving in both directions — moving up and moving into the more entry level space, but staying in the Xeon MP boundaries, " Unisys Vice President for Platform Marketing, Systems & Technology Mark Feverston told ServerWatch.

On the Intel side, Unisys expanded on both the low end and the high end with a pair of Itanium-2 servers. The 24- to 32-way Aries 440 raises the line to 32-way Itanium heights, while its kid brother, the 4- to 8-way Aries 405, lowers the Itanium-2 entry point to 4-way altitudes.

Feverston noted that lower-end additions like the 4-way Aries 405 aren't meant to stand alone. "The ES7000 product family is modular, a pay as you grow kind of environment," he said, "So today if you buy a 4-way from us, you can turn that into an 8-way [and go] all the way to a 32-way."

On March 29, Unisys unveiled the Libra 500 series of ClearPath mainframes. The servers follow an automatically expandable pay-for-use model and offer open source J2EE Java mainframe support. It also wed JBoss support to Unisys' proprietary developer tool, the Enterprise Application Environment. The Libra 500 series features three models: the Libra 520, 580, and 590, each of which roughly corresponds to older Libra 100 models. Each of the three models couple four to 28 proprietary Unisys MCP CMOS processors with four to 56 Intel Xeon MP processors. The servers are priced from $300,000 to $18 million.

Exactly one month after introducing the Libra 500 series, Unisys released a version of its 32-way Xeon MP ES7000 Orion 540 with improved self-healing diagnostic Sentinel management capabilities. Then, on August 2, Unisys announced support for Red Hat Linux AS across its ES7000 server line.

The following chart shows Unisys' server offerings at a glance. As usual, new additions are noted in bold; newly retired servers appear in italics.

Unisys Servers at a Glance
Server Family
Target Deployment
Processor Types
Processor Range
Operating Systems
Highly scalable, high-performance Wintel servers aimed at a typically Unix/mainframe occupied range; 64-bit options (400 series) availableXeon, Itanium-24 to 16 (Xeon)
4 to 32 (Itanium-2)
Windows 200x AS, SUSE Linux, Red Hat Linux405,
Similar to ES7000 Aries with an eye on the data center and higher-end computing needs; mainly 32-bit optionsXeon MP
Pentium III
8-32 (Xeon and Xeon MP)
560 allows Itanium-2 and Pentium III blades up 106 processors
Windows 200x AS, SUSE Linux, Red Hat Linux530,
ES3000 Mid-Range ServersLess extensive, low-end line designed for "one stop" clients looking to augment their ES7000 or Clearpath solutionsXeon MP
Pentium III
1 to 4 (Xeon and Xeon MP)
1 (Pentium III)
Windows 200xES3005 Blade,
High-end mainframes running OS2200, a proprietary operating system whose cellular multiprocessing allows integration of Intel-based processors and operating systems
(Although it continues to be updated, Gartner — and market trends — advise new customers to shop the ES7000 line.)
Proprietary Instruction Processors1 to 32 (Instruction Processors)
1 to 24 (Intel)
OS 2200, with Windows AS, SUSE, UnixWareDorado

High-end mainframes running MCP, proprietary operating system 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 CPUs1 to 32 (CMOS)
1 to 24 (Intel)
MCP, MCPvm, Windows 200x AS/DC, Unixware, SUSELibra
Libra 180,
Libra 185,
Libra 520,
Libra 580,
Libra 590
LX140 Laptop,

>> Red Hat Linux and Intel Itanium

Linux Servers

The previous Unisys Server Snapshot commented on Unisys' reluctance to prioritize Linux operating system support (at the time it was quietly supporting SUSE). Feverston describes the recent addition of support for Red Hat as pushing Linux into unproven scale-up territory. "Our goal is to be able to show people that we can scale Linux also," Feverston said, "we've proven that it's doable with Microsoft over the last three or four years." Unisys is now targeting databases on RISC platforms for migration to Linux, a move that will put it IBM POWER and HP-UX.

Unisys is now targeting databases on RISC platforms for migration to Linux, a move that will put it IBM POWER and HP-UX.

Sageza Research Director Joyce Becknell sees Linux support as a new jewel for Unisys' services chest. "This is in keeping with their master strategy. If they're going to continue to hold these big partnerships and help people migrate, shift, remanage, refocus, and organize their IT, they have to have the Linux skills. Even if people don't buy them right off, they want to know that they're using a services partner who has those capabilities."

Becknell noted that Unisys doesn't stand to lose much by downplaying its Windows-based offerings. "Unisys does not have the kind of relationship with Microsoft that HP or Dell has," she said, implying HP and Dell have much to lose, were they to downplay their Windows offerings, because of their distribution deals with Microsoft.

Itanium-2 Servers

Unisys' Itanium-2 focus may be a harder sell. "I can't speak to Itanium in the low echelons; in the DP [dual processor] space, those who are moving enterprise or mission-critical applications, especially databases, are choosing Itanium," Feverston noted, adding, "It's not a volume market, but it is an important market."

Becknell likens Unisys' somewhat tepid server sales, particularly of Itanium-2 based servers, to Costco's decision to sell coffins for a reduced wholesale rate at its stores. Costco, she said, "hasn't really done a lot of business because most people are really uncomfortable with the idea," just as enterprises may uncomfortable purchasing Itanium-2 servers, for example.

"Does that hurt Costco? Does it improve their image? Well, it depends on the group they're talking to," Becknell joked. "It's the same thing with Unisys, I think. They've got one foot in there; I certainly don't think anyone loses sleep over them as a [server sales] competitor," she concluded.

Service Slices

At the end of the day, Unisys' services are its chief selling point. Enterprises that like the service offerings will likely find the servers to be the perfect complement. "We offer the Unix customer an alternative with no compromises, and they have their choice of huge amounts of software applications utilities," Feverston said, "and more importantly, they have a very large pool of ready made skills in the marketplace, to manage a standards-based data center or infrastructure." This, in turn, fuels what he describes as a "growing customer base."

Becknell likens Unisys' service to a good pizza. "The really hard part for most people isn't assembling the collection of tools, it's actually doing something with them, actually buying all of the pieces, putting it all together. Just because you buy all the ingredients of a pizza doesn't mean you're going to make a good pizza," she said. Unisys' service and support is akin to pizza-making skill.

"It's one thing to sell them hardware, it's another thing for them to invite you back in to work side-by-side with them and make their implementation function properly," Feverston trumpeted, singing the tune of Unisys' true strength.

This article was originally published on Monday Sep 13th 2004
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