Unisys Box Opens Road to 32-Way Windows 2000

Unisys Corp.’s recent unveiling of a 32-processor, Intel-based server puts in place one of the few remaining pieces to take the Windows platform up to 32-way.

Unisys (www.unisys.com) demonstrated its e-action ES 7000 in New York late last month as part of a corporatewide realignment around e-business. The system runs on a new architecture, cellular multiprocessing (CMP), that draws on Unisys’ mainframe experience.

The machine consists of modules with four processors apiece that can be plugged in or pulled out while the other pieces of the system continue to run. The system can be sliced into to eight partitions if needed, running Windows alongside Intel-compatible flavors of Unix. Intel processor speeds and types can be mixed as well. When Intel’s 64-bit processors come out, the system will be able to run 32-bit processors in some modules and 64-bit processors in others.

Unisys expects limited shipments to begin in the first quarter of 2000, with volume shipments beginning in the second quarter.

The next hurdle for the Windows platform is an operating system that supports 32-way systems. Microsoft’s highest level Windows 2000 offering, Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, is supposed to support 32-way systems in OEM packages.

"On the day [Datacenter Server] ships, our current plan is for it to have 32-way support," says Ed Muth, Microsoft spokesman. If Microsoft meets its schedule of bringing Datacenter Server out three to four months after the rest of Windows 2000, the high-level version would ship in May or June.

Spokesmen for Unisys and Microsoft declined to specify the number of processors they had been able to run beta versions of Windows 2000 Datacenter Server across.

Once 32-processor Windows 2000 Datacenter Server configurations ramp up, Unisys expects the systems to compete with high-end systems from Sun Microsystems Inc. and other high-end Unix/RISC systems that eight-way Intel Profusion-based systems can’t approach, says Sam Samman, a senior technology executive at Unisys.

"Our models show that we will get close to the 114,000 to 115,000 [transactions per minute range] with our box," Samman says. Windows NT/Profusion systems have topped out at around 40,000 transactions per minute on the Transaction Processing Performance Council benchmarks (www.tpc.org).

David Friedlander, an analyst at Giga Information Group (www.gigaweb.com), says the ES 7000 is a huge opportunity for Unisys that requires more effective marketing than Unisys has demonstrated in the past.

"Anyone buying Windows 2000 Datacenter Server will most likely buy the Unisys server," Friedlander says. "Our assessment is that Unisys has probably a six- to 12-month lead, minimum, on building this type of system on Intel for Windows 2000," Friedlander says.

High-end systems aside, Unisys and Microsoft are spending the majority of their marketing energies on the partitioning capabilities of the machine. Both companies are encouraging customers to consolidate servers and to run production systems under Windows NT Server 4.0, Enterprise Edition, in one partition, with test partitions of Windows 2000 Server and Windows 2000 Advanced Server.

"The ES 7000 is the perfect platform for being able to host a development environment with one operating system and a production environment with another for developing and testing applications," Unisys’ Samman says. "Not only can I do that between NT 4.0 and Windows 2000, but also between Intel 32 and Intel 64."

In its initial version, the system will allow administrators to switch resources from one partition to another without shutting down the machine. In a three-partition machine, the partition losing resources would have to be shut down and the partition gaining the resources would have to be shut down. The third partition could continue to run. Microsoft and Unisys are working together on dynamic partitioning software that would allow resources such as a four-processor module to be swapped from one partition to another without shutting down the system.

The companies predict a six month planning phase for the capability. Giga’s Friedlander says he would be surprised to see dynamic partitioning released sooner than two years from now.

Unisys has about 60 ES 7000s for internal testing. None of the systems were being tested by customers at the time of the announcement.

The systems will start at around $100,000. This price includes eight 550-MHz Pentium III Xeon processors with 512 KB of Level 2 cache, 1 GB of memory, and 12 PCI slots.

Unisys’ Samman says initially Unisys may ship the ES 7000 with a maximum of 16 processors until the systems can be thoroughly tested with 32 processors in place.