Unisys to move its mainframe OS to Intel in 2007

Unisys is planning to phase out its CMOS mainframe processor and enable all of its operating systems to run on Intel-based Xeon processors, the company said Tuesday.

This means that its ClearPath mainframe operating systems, the OS2200 and MCP, will be running on the same chip that Unisys uses for the two other operating systems it supports on its systems -- Windows and Linux. The company's road map calls for the transition to be complete by the end of 2007. It will continue development of its mainframe operating systems.

Colin Lacey, vice president and general manager of the Enterprise Server Business at Unisys, said the Intel multicore chip's performance capabilities are such that "there is no specific reason to carry forward on a unique processor" design, he said. The company telegraphed its interest in moving to a common processor last year, but with today's announcement it now has a schedule, even though some details remain to be finalized.

While Unisys intends to migrate off CMOS, it isn't saying exactly when it will stop upgrading that processor. "We continue to reserve our options," said Lacey. "Our guarantee to our customers is we will deliver the performance they require for their mission-critical applications."

"This is a drastic change for the 2200 and MCP customers," said Greg Schweizer, a systems administrator at Oregonian Publishing in Portland, Oregon, a mainframe user. "But knowing the quality control that Unisys has always had in testing, I would not expect them to release it until they are confident that it is bug-free."

Schweizer said that even though there will be firmware between the Intel chip and the mainframe operating systems, the processor change could reduce costs for users.

Kevin Kelly, who does software support for the OS2200 at the Virginia Information Technologies Agency, said he has questions about both reliability and cost. "I don't know what it means in terms of performance," he said.

Lacey said customers will be able to easily move applications to the new hardware environment, which will have virtualization capabilities. "This is a plug-and-play solution from a customer perspective," he said.

According to Chris Ward, market analyst for servers and workstations at IDC Australia, Unisys's local presence is largely resultant of its large outsourcing contracts.

"The move to Intel x86/Itanium is more a sensible move for producing their own product and generally the relative price/performance of these systems these days."

He said all the reliable features can now be incorporated into Itanium based machines. "And as long as their mainframe OS runs on it, the hardware doesn't make a difference after that.

"Most of the market has moved this way and with IBM having such a considerable mainframe base compared to any other vendor, their relatively smaller niche is not sustainable in the longer term. Mainframes will still be around for sometime, but it looks like IBM will be the only one carrying on the legacy."

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