Unisys banks on second-generation server

Even though the company's cellular multiprocessor system is just beginning to catch on, it's at work on the system's successor, CMP2.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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Stephen Shankland
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Unisys has sold 320 of its high-end Intel-based servers since they debuted last year, a solid foothold for the new design, but the company already is anticipating its successor.

Unisys sells the 32-processor machine under the brand name ES7000. But the company, which expects that companies such as Compaq Computer will sell most of the machines under their own brand names, prefers to refer to the server by its design, cellular multiprocessor (CMP).

Even though the system is just beginning to catch on, Unisys is at work on the successor, called CMP2. Initial versions of the CMP2 will come with 32 processors, but the architecture is designed to support as many as 64, said Peter Samson, general manager of technology sales development at Unisys.

The machines ship with an average of 22 CPUs and 16GB of memory, Samson said.

Systems that use so many CPUs sell in comparatively small quantities--for example, Sun Microsystems' 64-CPU E10000, the most successful top-end multiprocessor system, sold at a top rate of 500 per quarter in the second quarter of 2000. This class of computer, often costing millions of dollars, is used to run large databases and for other software jobs that can't be spread across a lot of cheaper, smaller servers.

The timing of the CMP arrival was just about perfect. It showed up in the nick of time for Windows 2000 Datacenter, the highest-end version of the operating system and the first to support 32-CPU machines. It also filled holes in product lines at nearly all the biggest server sellers--Dell Computer, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, Fujitsu subsidiary ICL and Hitachi. Of the top Intel server manufacturers, only IBM has passed over the design.

The product also arrived at a good time for Unisys, an old-school computer company in Blue Bell, Pa., that focuses on services, older mainframe computers, and running customers' computing operations. In its struggle for survival, the company has shucked its own PC and server lines and now relies on Dell for its supply of servers. But the ES7000 has elevated the status of the company's own products.

CMP development began four years ago, Samson said, when Unisys decided it was time to overhaul its server strategy. "We were an also-ran in the server business," Samson said.

Microsoft now backs the effort with funding for marketing while Unisys pays for joint technical work.

Though other operating systems work, such as IBM's AIX 5L, "We can afford to take a wait-and-see" attitude with it, Samson said. "We're not putting any significant investment in it." Unisys has no plans for Linux support, he added.

Unisys expects that 30 percent of CMP revenue will come from sales by other computer manufacturers such as Compaq. In 2002, Unisys expects computer manufacturers will account for two thirds of Unisys' CMP revenue, Samson said.

"We need the (computer makers) to be successful," he said. Ultimately, Unisys hopes that CMP servers--including CMP2--will become a standard part of those companies' product lines.

Unisys expects Compaq and Dell to be the most aggressive sellers of the new server. HP had said it would begin to sell the CMP machines early in 2001, but Samson says the launch date now is expected in the second quarter of the year. HP couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Compaq has just begun selling its version of the CMP system, Samson said.