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Unisys mainframe gets .Net, Java

The company, one of the few remaining in the mainframe market, will begin selling a new high-end system that includes features to run newer software.

Unisys, one of the few companies remaining in the mainframe market, will begin selling a new high-end system Monday that includes features to run advanced software.

The new ClearPath Plus Libra 185 comes with faster processors and more capacity for transferring data into and out of the system. As significant a change is the support for programs written using Microsoft's .Net infrastructure and Sun Microsystems' Java.

The move mirrors one that IBM, by far the dominant seller of mainframes today, has been making in recent years. Big Blue's WebSphere software provides a mechanism to develop and run complicated Java programs, while more recently the company has pushed a mainframe version of Linux to attract more programmers and software companies.

Mainframes are large servers that typically feature strong reliability, high transaction processing power, and the ability to handle multiple jobs gracefully. Mainframes once were a vibrant, competitive market, but it was eroded by the advent of less-expensive machines that were good enough for many tasks. First came minicomputers from Digital Equipment, then Unix servers from Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems, and now Windows and Linux servers from a variety of manufacturers.

Unisys Libra 185's processors run 25 percent faster than those of its predecessor, the Libra 180, and the overall machine, with 32 processors altogether and as much as 64GB of memory, is five times as fast. In addition, the system now can be divided into eight independent partitions instead of just two.

The new system later will be available with software to gauge and control computer resource use, throttling capacity up and down according to pre-established guidelines and paying only for the resources used. The feature, called metered performance provisioning, augments an earlier feature called capacity on demand that lets customers increase computing performance temporarily.

The new system costs between $1.1 million and $22 million, depending on configuration.

The system can run Java and .Net programs directly on the mainframe. Because the design shares the "cellular multiprocessing" (CMP) internal design of Unisys' Intel-based ES7000 servers, it also can run Java and .Net programs on internal partitions that use as many as 24 Intel Xeon processors.

Mainframes aren't Unisys' mainstay, though. ClearPath sales are not increasing, a Unisys representative said. ClearPath and ES7000 sales in the first six months of 2003 were $554 million of the $2.82 billion total.

In the third quarter, ES7000 revenue increased more than 50 percent from the year earlier, but ClearPath revenue decreased by a double-digit percentage, the company said in July. Unisys increasingly is becoming a seller not only of computer hardware, but of services including consulting, outsourcing and systems integration.

Libra 185 customers include insurance company United Fire & Casualty Group and financial data processing company iTech, Unisys said.