Unisys: The Other Mainframe

Unisys' enhanced ClearPath Libra mainframe line can run a variety of operating systems and supports multiple processors; the company also announced a new pricing model for temporary increases in computing capacity

Unisys Corp. wants you to know that IBM isn't the only mainframe company in town. Yesterday the company announced major updates to its ClearPath Libra mainframe line, introducing new systems, improved modularity, a new pay-for-use business model, and J2EE application server support.

Unisys announced the ClearPath Libra 520 and Libra 590 systems; the former is an Intel-based mainframe, while the latter system is based on Unisys’ proprietary MCP CMOS. The ClearPath Libra mainframe systems can run a mix of operating environments, including Unisys’ own MCP mainframe operating environment, Microsoft Corp.’s Windows 2000 or Windows Server 2003, and UnixWare from The SCO Group. Customers can mix and match Unisys’ proprietary processors with Xeons or Itanium 2s in the same cabinet.

Chander Khanna, vice-president of S&T platform marketing with Unisys, says the Libra 520 system—which is powered by faster Xeon and Itanium microprocessors from Intel Corp.—offers “double the scalability compared to previous models in the same price range.” The Libra 590, which receives a boost from a faster revision of Unisys’ existing mainframe CMOS, boasts a 10 percent price/performance improvement over previous models, Khanna says.

The new ClearPath Libra mainframes are expandable by means of 4U modules, each of which can be populated with as many as four processors, Khanna notes. A single Libra system image can support as many as 32 processors, while a single Libra mainframe can host as many as 128 processors across several different images. “With the new modular approach, you can basically keep adding these server modules as desired,” says Rodney Sapp, director of ClearPath marketing for Unisys. “Right now, in terms of a single [ClearPath Libra] console, it supports 128 processors, so four images of 32 processors.”

Utilization Sentinel: Computing Capacity on Demand

Elsewhere, Unisys announced a new product called “Utilization Sentinel” that supports a “pay-as-you-go” computing model in which customers can dynamically allocate and de-allocate additional capacity as their business needs require it, or—to invoke a shopworn phrase—on-demand. “It enables customers to instantly access system resources very precisely and pay for these resources in small increments as they are consumed,” explains Khanna.

This is music to the ears of one long-time ClearPath Libra user. “I’ve been real pleased with the Libra; [I've] been pushing Unisys for some development changes in their organizational structure and pricing process,” explains Dan Fisher, executive vice-president and CTO with Community First Bankshares, a financial services company. “So what I’ve been doing is pushing Unisys to say ‘Hey, look, you‘ve got to give me the ability to buy more capacity for less money.'”

Although Unisys has had a capacity-on-demand program for years, some users complain that it can actually cost more than a system upgrade or capacity expansion. “If it costs me $300,000 to upgrade my computer to the next level, and it costs me $10,000 to use the peak load for one day, it would actually be more expensive for me to use the peak load price because I would need that at least 12 or maybe 15 days a year,” Fisher says.

Finally, Unisys announced support for the JBoss open source J2EE application server running on ClearPath Libra.

IBM has recently seen its revenues buoyed by strong sales of its mainframe systems, and Khanna says Unisys has seen an increase in demand as well. In fact, he claims, Unisys has actually shipped mainframes to at least 50 new customers over the last two years: “We had 21 new customers last year, 50 over the past two years”.

Sapp says that Unisys is committed to delivering future iterations of its proprietary MCP CMOS for forthcoming ClearPath mainframe systems. “Absolutely, we have new iterations coming up. Those are in development right now,” he confirms.

Among Unisys’ existing customers, Community First Bankshares’ Fisher says that although he’s intrigued by the new ClearPath Libra systems, he doesn’t have any immediate plans to purchase one. “I always have a need [for additional capacity],” he says, noting that his company purchased the first of the next-generation ClearPath Libra 180 systems that Unisys announced 18 months ago.

About the Author

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