Unisys Demonstrates New 32-way Itanium 2 System

New systems show 64-bit performance advantages.

Unisys Corp. demonstrated a 32-way Itanium 2-based ES7000 system that hosts a native 64-bit operating system environment and exploits a 64-bit database. The company claims that a 64-bit ES7000 system is as much as 25 times faster than a comparable 32-bit system for many applications.

The ES7000 system that Unisys demonstrated wasn’t running an instance of its ClearPath mainframe operating environment, however. Instead, the operating system was a pre-release version of 64-bit Windows .NET Server 2003 Datacenter Edition from Microsoft Corp.

Likewise, the database the system exploited was a pre-release version of Microsoft’s 64-bit SQL Server product.

"What we did is we [took] one [32-bit] environment that had … 4GB of memory, because that’s one of the limitations of today’s [Windows] environment. Then we ran the same database, the same query, the exact same scripts against the new Itanium 2 16-processor configuration with 64GB of memory," explains Mark Feverston, vice president of the enterprise server market with Unisys.

The demonstration was promoted by both Microsoft and Unisys at the Windows .NET Server DevCon conference.

Despite the ES7000’s impressive technical resume—its feature set includes resource partitioning, advanced workload partitioning and self-diagnostic capabilities—most analysts say that Microsoft’s would-be mainframe operating system environment, Windows Datacenter Edition, isn’t close to rivaling the capabilities of entrenched Big Iron and high-end Unix server systems. As a result, argues Tony Iams, a senior analyst with consultancy D.H. Brown & Associates, Microsoft’s difficulties with Windows Datacenter Edition have hurt Unisys, which bets big on the combination of Windows running on top of the ES7000 to eventually supplant its ClearPath mainframe line.

"The problem for [Unisys] is that it got ahead of Microsoft. [Unisys] designed this system [the ES7000], the hardware is outstanding, it’s very hard to find flaws in the hardware, this is truly a mainframe based on Intel," Iams notes. "At the end of the day, [Unisys is] still totally dependent on Microsoft to perform the necessary investments in Windows to exploit high-end hardware like that. Microsoft has expressed a commitment to support that kind of hardware, but it still hasn’t come far enough."

The market for large database or compute-intensive applications, on the other hand, could be an easier space for Windows running on top of the ES7000 to crack. Such applications generally require a very large memory address space—64 bits—and, in many cases, exploit workloads that can be easily partitioned. In recent years, high-end Unix systems such as AIX from IBM Corp., IRIX from Silicon Graphics Inc., Solaris from Sun Microsystems Inc. and HP-UX from Hewlett-Packard Co., have dominated this market segment.

On paper, Unisys’ new Itanium 2-based ES7000 system offers feature parity with competitive offerings from the high-end enterprise server crowd, argues Richard Fichera, a vice president and research fellow with consultancy Giga Information Group Inc. "[The ES7000] really is the equivalent of an Intel mainframe."

The ES7000 system Unisys demonstrated is the largest and most scalable Itanium 2-based system currently shipping. It can manage up to 64GB of memory—the most that Itanium 2 is capable of addressing. It can be separated into multiple logical partitions, and its memory and storage resources can be partitioned according to the requirements of each of its logical partitions.

As a result of this, argues Unisys’ Feverston, the combination of Unisys’ new Itanium 2-based ES7000 and Microsoft’s forthcoming 64-bit Windows .NET Server Datacenter Edition and 64-bit SQL Server products demonstrates that Windows can finally begin to compete with established players such as IBM, Sun and HP in the very large database or high-end transaction processing spaces.

"There’s a good opportunity today for people who have large, high performance database needs," Feverston asserts. "The combination of Microsoft’s new Datacenter and SQL Server, especially on the ES7000 in greater than eight-way [processor configurations]—we had them running on a 16-way server—is very viable for all of these [environments]."

Among analysts, Giga’s Fichera anticipates that Unisys will be successful selling the ES7000 into high-end accounts for a variety of applications.

"The ramp-up is going to be gradual, but considering that these are, on average, one million dollar systems, Unisys has already sold 700 or 800 of them," Fichera points out. "The heaviest uses of those will be large database applications, heavy back-end transaction environments and server consolidation."

Unisys will begin shipping its systems in October, Feverston says. When they debut, they will run Microsoft’s 64-bit Windows 2000 Advanced Server Limited Edition. Once again, Unisys must wait on the software giant, which has committed to delivering a 64-bit version of its Windows .NET Server 2003 in lockstep with the 32-bit version of that product. Microsoft’s 64-bit SQL Server is slated to ship at around the same time.

"We’re just kind of counting on them being able to deliver again this year or early next year," Feverston says.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.