Unisys Unveils New High-End Mainframe

ClearPath Plus system enhances workload provisioning.

Unisys Corp. yesterday announced a new high-end mainframe system, the ClearPath Plus Libra Model 180. Unisys’ newest mainframe is part of the technology company’s ongoing effort to refresh its aging ClearPath hardware line. In April, Unisys announced new ClearPath Plus systems to refresh its low-end and mid-range mainframe product lines.

The ClearPath Plus systems exploit Unisys’ Cellular Multiprocessing Platform (CMP), a system architecture that supports a heterogeneous mixture of processors and operating environments.

“It gives the clients the choice of what operating system or operating systems that they happen to need, and it lets them put that on a single platform that can be of pure Intel if they so deem it, or a combination of Intel or some [proprietary] Unisys processors [CMOS],” explains Kevin McHugh, vice president of platform marketing with Unisys.

Each ClearPath Plus system can, for example, simultaneously host either of Unisys’ two mainframe environments—MCP or OS2200—along with 32-bit and 64-bit editions of compatible Unix or Windows operating systems.

The new ClearPath Plus Libra 180 ups the ante, however. Unisys’ previous top-of-the-line ClearPath Plus mainframe, the CS7802, scaled to a maximum of 32 processors. The Libra 180 can support up to 40 processors.

Moreover, says Rodney Sapp, Unisys director of ClearPath marketing, the Libra 180 supports a new capability—dubbed “Performance Redistribution”—that enables an IT organization to allocate or re-distribute additional processing horsepower (i.e., MIPS) as needed.

“It lets you reallocate the total performance among processors. During the day you’re doing OLTP, you’ve got your performance divided among three processors; at night you’ve got some heavy batch, which usually does better with a single processor, so you’re literally able to put it on a single processor and increase the performance on the fly,” Sapp explains.

The ClearPath Plus Libra 180 mainframes support another new feature, Capacity on Demand, that makes it possible for customers to temporarily increase the total MIPs within a system. In this regard, Unisys’ McHugh offers the example of an airfare war, in which an airline might need to greatly augment its capacity for a short period to handle increased demand.

“When you’re done with it, it’s like a utility, like metered usage where you can increase the performance when you need to and take the performance back down when you need to,” McHugh explains.

In its ClearPath Plus mainframes, says Robert Schafer, a program director with consultancy META Group, Unisys is trying to give its existing customers a jack-of-every-trade mainframe system that will support all of their existing applications, even as it makes it possible for them to deploy new workloads—or consolidate existing, distributed workloads—on Windows or Unix partitions.

“They’re offering their existing installed base some reasonable alternatives and a reasonable migration path,” he notes. “You put a stake in the ground yesterday and they’re all Unisys [on ClearPath], you put a stake in the ground five years from now and you’ll be in that 64-bit Intel world [on ClearPath Plus].”

McHugh says that Unisys has committed to delivering its own proprietary Unisys CMOS through another couple of generations.

“What we’re trying to accomplish with ClearPath is to give you the best of both worlds, and our high-end customers will still need our own chips to get the best performance out of MCP,” he explains.

According to META Group’s Schafer, while a decision of this kind won’t be a money-maker—“that’s not a business you want to be in,” he concedes—it could help allay the concerns of some long-time customers. In this regard, Schafer suggests, Unisys’ new high-end Libra 180 system won’t initiate immediate ClearPath Plus uptick in existing accounts, but makes it likely that long-time customers will eventually upgrade to some iteration of ClearPath Plus.

“They’re not going to be replacing the aging mainframes right now necessarily, because there are going to be another few generations of the Unisys custom CMOS, but I think it’s not unreasonable to see them [upgrade at some point],” he speculates.

One customer making an immediate move to ClearPath Plus is Community First Bankshares, a financial institution with over $5 billion in assets. CIO Dan Fisher says that as a result of its support for Capacity on Demand, the new Libra 180 mainframe will support his company’s existing MCP workloads more efficiently.

“We already run [our existing ClearPath system] really efficiently, but we were looking at other ways of trying to improve our operational processes,” he says. “The value of this box is that the mainframe [resources] can be allocated dynamically, so we can have multiple copies of our OS populated out there and there will not be any contention between processors.”

Community First has additional plans for its ClearPath Plus system, Fisher says. It currently manages a number of separate Windows NT 4.0 systems that exploit the MetaFrame thin client solution from Citrix Systems Inc. This makes it possible for Community First to host many of the important banking applications for each of its branches at a centralized location. According to Fisher, Community First plans to eventually consolidate its distributed Windows NT 4.0 systems on its new ClearPath Plus hardware. The mainframe system will simultaneously host Unisys’ MCP and Microsoft’s Windows 2000 operating environments.

“We’re the largest thin client financial institution in the country, and we’re moving up to Windows 2000 on the new box, which will allow us to blend [Windows 2000] with MCP on the same box,” he adds.

META Group’s Schafer says that Unisys’ next challenge is to give customers such as Community First a suite of administration tools that are sophisticated enough to facilitate management in heterogeneous ClearPath Plus environments. “This is what [all of the mainframe vendors] have had trouble with, as even IBM will tell you. The challenge for Unisys will be to come out with some reasonably robust software to manage this whole thing, and to be able to go as seamlessly as possible from managing resources from proprietary [environments] to open [systems environments] and back again.”

About the Author

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