New Xeon MP pushes high-end Windows computing

Unisys is set up unveil a new ES-7000/200 server that could go a long way toward validating Microsoft's Windows platform as a...

Unisys is set up unveil a new ES-7000/200 server that could go a long way toward validating Microsoft's Windows platform as a viable competitor to high-end Unix and mainframe server systems.

New "Server Sentinel" technology onboard the ES-7000/200 will also deliver self-healing capabilities to the Unisys server in much the same way that IBM's eLiza self-healing system automatically corrects errors in the company's servers, according to Mark Feverston, vice-president of Unisys' server programme.

"If you are looking at high-end Unix servers, you really owe it to yourself to look at high-end Windows and Intel [chips], because we are delivering Unix-level performance with those tools today," Feverston said.

The ES-7000 was the first - and remains the only Intel-based server - that can run a Windows operating system across 32 processors within a single server.

Experts see the ES-7000/200 as a way of ushering Windows operating systems into a high-end computing market dominated by Unix-based servers, many of which use non-Intel RISC processors.

Robert Dorin, a research director with the Aberdeen Group, said a stigma still surrounds Windows operating systems, which are seen by administrators of high-performance systems as second-rate to the performance of Unix systems.

"What you have here is an on-going effort jointly between Unisys and Microsoft to position a Windows platform as a viable high-end Enterprise offering, and as an alternative to Unix," Dorin said. "Whether you talk about IBM, Sun, or HP, or any other high-end Unix platform, they are all more expensive than a Windows system. But obviously the market isn't pre-conditioned in thinking in those terms. So Unisys is trying to erode that locked mind set that Windows is not an enterprise platform."

The ES-7000/200 packs the latest Xeon multiprocessor (MP) chips from Intel, running at either 1.4GHz or 1.6GHz. Additionally, the ES-7000/200 is capable of running both 32-bit Xeon chips and 64-bit Intel Itanium-class chips side-by-side in the same server, partitioning 64-bit applications onto 64-bit chips and running 32-bit applications across a combination of the processors.

"This is a major step forward. Not only does the ES-7000/200 have additional performance via the new Xeon MP processors, but the Server Sentinel capabilities provide for automatic recovery of hardware and software errors, automated re-boot and re-start capabilities, automated kill and re-start of processors that could go foul, and dynamic processor affinity management, which is moving I/O and memory around within the server," Feverston said.

Server Sentinel offers system health monitoring, which provides a quick way to view the status of the ES-7000/200 from any secure Web browser. An array of software scripts within the ES-7000/200 can begin the process of recovering from a software or hardware failure before the actual failure occurs. CPU workloads and dynamic resource allocation can be automated and performed unattended by using Server Sentinel. And a system health advisor generates a wide range of reports to help administrators in analysing the server's performance, according to Unisys.

"People who might be looking at Unix will take a look at [the ES-7000/200] and say it has better price performance, I can get more skills around it, [and] I'm not locked into a proprietary operating system and proprietary chips," Feverston said. "We also find that when we get to the scale-out world, there are many times when it's a good economic decision to say 'I would rather consolidate many jobs and many servers into fewer, larger servers as opposed to having walls of smaller servers.'"

Unisys putting all its experience in mainframe computing behind the Intel-based workhorse that is the ES-7000/200 is only a small part of the overall picture, though, said Aberdeen's Dorin.

"The future success of the ES-7000/200 will rest on Unisys' ability to leverage Microsoft's market influence. Microsoft will rely on Unisys' ability as an old-school mainframe company that can penetrate the high-end computing market, and Unisys can help Microsoft chip away at the perception that Windows isn't ready for prime time," Dorin said.

Available in April 2002, pricing for the ES-7000/200 starts between $100,000 (£70,300) and $1m (£700,000) depending on configuration, according to Unisys.

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