If the universe ran smoothly, Unisys, which was the early proponent of Microsoft’s Datacenter Edition of Windows 2000, would not need to think about supporting Linux. Companies sick of paying high prices for RISC/Unix servers would simply port their applications to Windows and run them on a Unisys ES7000 mainframe. But the universe doesn’t run smoothly, and because many Unix shops prefer Linux over Windows, Unisys needs to support – really support – Linux. Starting this week, it does.
In conjunction with the LinuxWorld trade show in San Francisco this week, Unisys announced that it would support both Novell Inc’s SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 and Red Hat Inc’s Enterprise Linux 3 on both the Xeon and Itanium versions of its ES7000 big iron servers. These two implementations of Linux will sit side by side with Windows 2000 and Windows 2003, having full support on the ES7000 Aries 400 series and Orion 500 series servers, says Anthony Gold, vice president of engineering for the ES7000 line. As Unisys was badgered by many in the industry to support Linux on its servers for the past couple of years, the company said that it was focused on Windows and that Linux was not ready for prime time. However, what Unisys did not say was that the engineers at Unisys were in fact helping Linux go prime time. Gold says that Unisys has been contributing and tweaking code for the Linux 2.6 kernel that allows Linux to run on the ES7000s and for its Server Sentinel systems management software to fully manage Linux as it already does Windows. (Linux and Windows can run side by side on a single machine within hard partitions, and Linux can be the sole platform on the ES7000 box if customers wish.)
Not only that, but with the Linux 2.6 kernel, Unisys has contributed technology drawn from its Clearpath mainframes that allows Linux running on the ES7000s to be deployed inside dynamic partitions.
In the Windows environment, Unisys can support static or hardware partitions down to the level of a cell board, which is either a four-way or eight-way board, depending on the ES7000 model. Dynamic partitions are not supported, although Gold says that Unisys is working with Microsoft to enable its own brand of dynamic partitions on the ES7000s with the future Longhorn Server release. And while Unisys will support VMware’s GSX Server for partitions inside Windows machines today and will support Microsoft’s future Virtual Server 2005 for sub-processor partitioning on the ES7000s running Windows, neither GSX Server or Virtual Server will be required for dynamic partitioning with Longhorn Server. The same holds true of Linux support. Companies will be able to use GSX Server to create sub-processor Linux partitions if they want, but the dynamic partitions that Unisys has created do not require any VMware software.
Right now, SuSE Enterprise 9, which is expected to be announced today, is the only version of Linux that Unisys supports its dynamic partitions on. While Red Hat can run on an ES7000 server as the sole operating system or within hard partitions, the dynamic partitions that Unisys has created will not work on Red Hat Linux until that company delivers its Linux 4 with the 2.6 kernel version sometime in the first quarter of 2005.
Gold says that Linux can run on Xeon-based ES7000 servers in 32-bit or 64-bit mode and can similarly be run in 64-bit mode on Itanium-based ES7000 servers. Right now, Unisys can ship a 32-way Xeon box in 32-bit mode and can ship a 16-way Itanium box (which can have two 16-ways sitting side by side). Very soon, says Gold, Unisys will create a true 32-way Itanium box as well. This kind of big iron is what a lot of Unix shops are looking for. And this combined with the fact that Linux looks a lot more like Unix than does Windows should help Unisys in its goal of unplugging a lot of RISC/Unix iron in favor of its own ES7000s.
There are some Unix users who will never go to Windows, says Gold. Some Unix customers want something that smells and plays like Unix. They certainly do, and while Microsoft’s Services for Unix is clever, it is not an easier choice than moving to Linux. A Linux platform running on mainframe-class iron with Unisys support behind it is going to be a safer, better, and cheaper bet than Windows for a lot of Unix shops.
While the Clearpath mainframes can run Windows alongside of the OS2200 and MCP mainframe operating systems, Gold says that Unisys is going to wait until customers clamor for Linux on the Clearpaths to support it on those boxes. That probably will not take too long, if IBM’s experience with mainframe Linux is any indication.
The initial granularity on the ES7000 Linux dynamic partitions is not all that great with this announcement. A Linux partition has to span at least eight processors in an ES7000. However, Gold says that Unisys will improve this to at least a four-way by next year, and adds that Unisys can do two-way or even single processor dynamic partitions if customers need it. Customers will definitely want this.