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Unisys Makes ES7000 Denser, Cheaper

TREYDYFFRIN, Pa. -- Three years after rolling out massive, mainframe-inspired servers for Windows and Intel, Unisys is packing the big-server technology into smaller, denser pieces that the company hopes will be more digestible for enterprise buyers.

The new servers Unisys unveiled this week are promoted as being able to scale up as well as the older, bigger models, but they will come in 4U, rack-mountable, self-contained units with between four and eight Xeon MP processors. Up to four of the self-contained server chasses, or cells, can be joined through a sideplane unit to build systems of up to 32 processors and 64 GB of RAM.

"That's the new kind of mainframe. It's not the big machine that we have today, but it's the same type of capability," said Leo Daiuto, vice president and general manager of product development and technology for the ES7000/500 series, the name for the new line of servers.

The original Unisys system, which shipped in March 2000, was called the ES7000. It scaled to 32 processors and 64 GB of RAM but came in its own mainframe-sized cabinet, with oversized power and cooling systems. Although the units could be purchased with as few as eight processors, each server cabinet had to have the infrastructure to support up to 32 processors.

"Power and cooling weren't modular. That cost was built into an eight-way," Daiuto said. Everything down to circuit breakers cost more for the large system than for the commodity parts available for a module-based system.

With ES7000 sales approaching just 1,000 units after three years of availability, Unisys is clearly looking for a greater share of the mid-range Windows market. A major barrier has been the relatively high cost of the systems. While a $100,000-to-$750,000 system may be a third the cost of a Unix/RISC system as Unisys often claims, it's still a high bar for users interested in headroom for growing Windows applications.

This new third generation of Unisys ES7000 servers resembles the approach IBM has been rolling out in its eServer xSeries 440 line, which is available as a four-way that currently can be built up to a 16-way and is supposed to be available in up to 32-processor configurations by year end.

Taking the new approach, Unisys has an opportunity to bring the price way down, with four-way, entry-level systems starting at $35,000. That sounds steep for a four-way starting price, but most four-processor, entry-level list prices are for systems with just one processor. The ES7000/Aries 510 cannot be configured with fewer than four processors. A 32-processor, four-unit configuration is available immediately and costs $375,000 -- half the fully loaded cost of the earlier ES7000s.

"I do believe that we will be attracting some commodity buyers," says Mark Feverston, Unisys vice president for enterprise marketing.

While the approach follows IBM's, Unisys has made some innovations in density -- fitting eight Xeon MP processors on a single board, and in multi-server configurations, plugging the server modules into a side-plane to give all the server cells uniform access to all the memory in other cells.

This approach means that a 16-way configuration has two chasses for a total of 8U. To make it work with a fully-loaded 32-way configuration, Unisys turns the servers on their sides within the rack, so all four units can plug into the sideplane. That means a 24-way or 32-way configuration requires 22U of rack space instead of the 16U that would be expected from piling four of the 4U chasses horizontally.

Unisys claims that unlike IBM's NUMA approach in the x440 line, the side-plane will make the new Unisys server line as scalable as the old line. An early benchmark gives some support to that claim.

This month, Unisys published a result on the Transaction Processing Performance Council's OLTP benchmark, the TPC-C, which beat a second-generation Profusion chipset result from Hewlett-Packard and an IBM x440 system on price/performance. All three systems had eight processors. The IBM result, posted last week, beats the raw performance of the Unisys system by slightly less than 1 percent. Both IBM and Unisys were marginally faster than HP.

Because each Unisys chassis can only support 16 GB of RAM, Unisys used additional chasses in the test to reach 64 GB of RAM, and the sideplane supported the quick memory access.

Unisys plans another run at the TPC-C benchmark shortly with a 16-processor system that will provide a more direct test of the scalability of the approach.

There have been tradeoffs for Unisys in making its Intel-based servers more dense. The new systems have far fewer I/O slots and are less partitionable than the original models.

The original ES7000 cabinet had 96 I/O slots. The new models have eight PCI slots per cell, with a maximum of 32 in a four-cell system. Unisys is offering I/O expansion racks that are 4U high and contain 13 slots for customers who need more capacity.

The original ES7000 could also be partitioned down to four-processor cells, meaning a group of four processors could run an instance of an operating system, while other groups of four-or-more processors could run other operating systems within a cabinet. The new systems' smallest partition is eight processors.

There are four models to the new ES7000/500 series. The ES7000/Aries 510 comes with four to eight Xeon MP processors. The ES7000/Aries 520 comes with eight to 16 Xeon MP processors and up to two domains (partitions). The ES7000/Orion 530 is similar to a pre-packaged cluster, coming with up to 32 processors configured in two 16-processor domains. The ES7000/Orion 540 includes 16-32 processors and supports up to four domains.

Unisys has always positioned the ES7000 servers as Windows servers primarily, and the new boxes support Windows 2000 Advanced Server and Windows 2000 Datacenter Server immediately and Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition shortly. They will also support Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition on May 30. The company also supports UnixWare 7.1.3 and UnitedLinux through the SCO Group.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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