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Unisys adds server expansion option

Option lets customers buy servers with extra processing capacity that can be easily switched on in the future.

Unisys is following in the footsteps of its Unix server competitors, adding an option that lets customers buy servers with extra processing capacity that can be easily switched on in the future.

The idea, called capacity on demand, generally means a server ships with more processors than a customer pays for. If the extra processors are needed later to accommodate an expanding work load or temporary spikes in work, customers can pay to bring the new processors online.

Unisys plans to announce the feature, which it calls Real-Time Capacity, on Wednesday. It will permit customers to buy systems with as many as double the number of processors that they're paying for, though they'll have to pay an extra amount for the privilege--less than 10 percent more--said Mark Feverston, Unisys' director of platforms for systems and technology.

Unisys has been working for years to popularize its ES7000 line. However, among those selling servers using x86 processors such as Intel's Xeon, Unisys ranked eighth in market share, garnering $58 million of the $6 billion total spent in the first quarter of 2005, according to Gartner.

The capacity for on-demand technology has been available in Unix servers from IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems as well as IBM mainframes. Unisys' ES7000 servers, though, use Intel Xeon and Itanium processors and run Windows or Linux.

A closer competitor is IBM's x460 server, which can be expanded by adding new four-processor modules up to a total of 32 Xeon chips. Unisys' servers house up to 32 Xeon processors or 16 Itanium 2 chips.

"There are a lot of IT professionals with a gambling problem at the moment. They believe they have to buy capacity for three or four years today," Feverston said. "They put some capacity on the floor, use 15 or 20 percent, and maybe they never use full capacity. They buy for the peak."

Though customers pay an extra amount for the capacity option, that payment is subtracted later from the fee to activate the processors, so customers won't have to pay more than the original price of the full system, Feverston said.

Customers can either switch new processors on permanently or temporarily, such as when retailers grapple with holiday sales or schools with enrollment periods, he added.