Big Software’s Big Trick - Turning Unisys mainframes into just another standard Intel server (with added benefits)

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In 1996 I was in on the birth of the Unisys ClearPath range of mainframes, being the Director of Marketing responsible for their launch across UK and the Nordics. A few weeks ago, I attended the latest Unisys Future Matters event at the National Space Centre in Leicester to get an update on the latest developments in what is now known as the ClearPath Forward product range.

Back in 1996 the idea of pairing proprietary CMOS processors and Intel chips in the same box to enable closer, seamless interworking between the two environments seemed genuinely exciting. In reality, it was ahead of its time and just a clever technical development looking for a solution. Along with that development came a vision, over time, to move the proprietary operating systems over to an Intel only environment. While low-end and mid-size MCP (ex-Burroughs) systems were migrated quite quickly, the OS2200 (ex-Sperry) and high end MCP systems were a tougher nut to crack. However, this was completed successfully by 2015, albeit it with specific Dell/EMC configurations to handle complex I/O requirements.

Now, however, Unisys has announced, and is delivering, its ClearPath Software Series that enables customers to buy the operating system software licences without the requirement to buy specific hardware from Unisys. The software can be deployed on Bare Metal servers or on top of VMWare and (on MCP systems at least) Hyper-V. This is Big Software at its biggest.

For Unisys mainframe customers this offers the potential for reduced hardware costs. There is clearly also the ability, with the various industry standard development and integration tools that Unisys have made available on a ClearPath Forward platform, to integrate existing proprietary applications into a more federated application environment with new mobile and cloud-based apps.

At the very least, this should extend the life of a range of mission-critical systems of record applications in financial services, telcos, airlines etc., not only by keeping them relevant but by enabling new, younger developers to maintain and develop these applications using tools and interfaces they know and like.

It’s one thing to extend the life and value of systems, but what if you could give them a whole new lease of life? In one area in particular I think Unisys is missing a trick. Unisys provides very good managed and outsourced services. But in a world where you can drop your MCP and OS2200 applications onto Bare Metal or a VMware hypervisor, where metered delivery is already possible, this surely opens up the potential for Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and private cloud delivery. At Bloor we have been talking about the potential for Mainframe-as-a-Service (MaaS) and we see no reason why Unisys shouldn’t be a strong player here. It would certainly change and raise their profile. Physically It’s only a small step beyond Managed Services, but in people’s perception, a giant leap.

Finally, something to ponder. Unisys have a global reputation for I.T. security. Their mainframes have always been very secure. Indeed, using the National Vulnerability Database published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) which has been compiling a list of operating system vulnerabilities since 1997, Unisys ClearPath Forward MCP systems show only 3 vulnerabilities, while Unisys ClearPath Forward 2200 systems show zero vulnerabilities. In a world increasingly concerned about data security and privacy, but one where big data and data analytics are critical elements in global business success wouldn’t it be reassuring to have databases like NoSQL and Hadoop running on Unisys MCP or OS2200 operating systems. Maybe that is too difficult technically and commercially for Unisys. But if it could be done and combined with Unisys’ innovative Stealth solution we all might sleep a little easier in our beds at night, knowing our data is secure!