management: So How Are the Other Mainframes Doing?
The past two decades have seen an incredible change in System z systems
as IBM strives to keep its flagship mainframe platform relevant. As System z
dominates an estimated 85-90% of the mainframe market, it's easy to forget that
IBM isn't the only mainframe manufacturer. So how are the other mainframes doing?
Today's IBM System z mainframe is a very different server from the System/370
computers of the 1980s. Faced with plummeting sales figures, IBM has heavily
invested in keeping its mainframes relevant. From UNIX Systems Services
and TCPIP to Java and Websphere Applications Server, IBM has re-invented
But IBMs System z isn't the only legacy mainframe on the market. So what's
happened to these other mainframes over the past years?
Unisys recently announced a third consecutive quarter of Clearpath mainframe
sales growth, fuelling an excellent nine months for Unisys. Unisys estimates
that is holds around 15% of the Asia/Pacific mainframe market, and is the market
leader in Taiwan and South America. Unisys Clearpath mainframes are in fact
two legacy mainframes from the merger of Sperry and Burroughs in 1986: OS2200
Unisys Clearpath Dorado mainframes are the latest face of the Sperry OS220,
and have long been a favourite of the airline, defence and aerospace industries.
Around a third of all airline reservations and cargo are processed on Dorado
mainframes. Telecommunications and banking industries have preferred the ClearPath
Libra, the current brand of the Burroughs MCP.
Clearpath mainframes have been moving in a similar direction to IBM System
z in terms of networking (now TCPIP), clustering (XPC-L for OS2200), and new
programming languages (Java, C and PHP). Clearpath mainframes also offer similar
virtualisation options to IBM.
Unisys has expanded Clearpath functionality using speciality processors for
niche workloads. Clearpath operating systems transparently offload eligible
processing to these external appliances. Speciality processors available include
cryptographic processing, and Java and Web enablement.
Legacy applications have been opened up with a range of middleware options.
Websphere MQ, Microsoft Message Queueing, Microsoft COM+ and Oracle Tuxedo are
all supported. Products to quickly web-enable legacy applications further protect
Clearpath legacy assets. Unisys have chosen a port of the popular JBOSS as the
J2EE weapon of choice, and Eclipse plug-ins are available for legacy and new
Like all manufacturers, Unisys has attempted to reduce the TCO of their Clearpath
mainframes. Hardware costs continue to decrease as processing power increases.
Electrical, cooling and space requirements also continue to decrease. In fact
Unisys estimates that the power and footprint of their large-scale systems has
halved every two years for the past six. Unisys has also followed IBMs Sub-Capacity
Pricing idea. Metering functionality allows customers to pay for what they use,
not the size of the machine.
Unlike IBM, Unisys has chosen to offer cheaper Intel-based low-end mainframes,
called the 4000 series. The 700 series legacy processors have been retained
for the high end.
These technological advances seem to be paying off. Sales are strong, and Unisys
reports no migrations away from Clearpath in the Asia-Pacific region over the
last few years.
Previously the Siemens BS2000, the Fujitsu BS2000 is popular in Europe, particularly
Germany. Q4 2009 sales of BS2000 were around US$70 million, a nice earner for
Over recent years Fujitsu has been attempting to open up the BS2000, hence
the Open Server Dimension (OSD) addition to the name. TCPIP is the networking
protocol of choice, with easy connectivity to Ethernet and ATM. NFS, SNMP, SMTP
and other normal TCPIP facilities are standard with the BS2000. Virtualisation
facilities and a POSIX interface for porting UNIX applications are also standard.
Fujitsu has attempted to ease application development with the new languages
C/C++, PHP and Java.
Legacy database managers SESAM/SQL Server and UDS/SQL are supplemented by Oracle
Database and Adabas. The SAP powered Web Transactions web-enables legacy applications.
It even works on z/OS.
Fujitsu has followed IBM by using an Apache port as a web-server, however a
native J2EE environment is not on the menu. Fujitsu's big hope for opening up
legacy applications is OpenUTM. An OLTP that includes client-server and messaging
functionality, OpenUTM allows applications to access Clearpath databases directly
using SQL and ODBC. A gateway for Websphere MQ is also available.
Like Unisys, Fujitsu has opted to offer a low-cost small-scale Intel-based
server, retaining their traditional systems for the high end. These small-end
servers can also run UNIX and Windows partitions.
The Non-stop platform has gone through a few different sets of hands in the
past few years: from Tandem to Compaq in 1997, and finally to HP in 2002. A
small irony, as Tandem NonStop computers were created by former HP employee
High reliability systems, Tandem computers have long been a favourite for stock
exchanges and ATM and Point of Sale device control. However it may not all be
sunshine for HP NonStop. HPs Business Critical Systems, which includes their
NonStop systems, suffered an 18% decrease in revenue over the nine months to
Technologically, HP have followed the pack, with TCPIP, a POSIX interface,
and Websphere MQ support. Java, C and C++ are also available, together with
Eclipse plugins. In the J2EE stakes, HP have followed Unisys in pinning their
hopes on JBOSS.
HP are retiring their legacy (Sierra) S-Series processors, moving NonStop processing
to their Intel-based Integrity family of servers. S-Series support will end
in the next couple of years.
Bull GCOS 8
In April of this year, Bull released its latest GCOS 8 capable server: the
Novascale GCOS 9010. This is a strong indication that GCOS 8 isn't going anywhere
for some time. Originally the Honeywell General Comprehensive Operating System,
GCOS 8 has been around since the 1970s.
The Bull Novascale series follows the trend of offering Intel-based servers
for traditional mainframe operating systems. Like Unisys and Fujitsu, Bull continues
to offer traditional processors at the top end: the DPS9000. However no new
DPS9000 server has been announced since 2004, indicating that Bull may be concentrating
more on their Novascale range.
Unlike other mainframe manufacturers, Bull seems uninterested in attracting
new workloads onto GCOS 8. Although a C compiler exists for GCOS 8, strategic
new languages such as C++, Java, PHP and Perl are not available. There is no
native J2EE environment, and no POSIX environment for porting UNIX applications.
Instead, Bull has concentrated on preserving existing customers with facilities
to access other systems from traditional TP8 and other applications, and open
up legacy applications and data. This includes external processors such as DBSP
for Oracle database access, e-BSP for BEA Weblogic access (via Tuxedo), and
CNSP for fast TCPIP access.
These external processors are in fact separate devices; predominantly AIX-based
servers with a fast link to the GCOS 8 server. Bull also markets another similar
line of devices: HOOX connectors. These devices open GCOS 8 assets to J2EE,
COM+, JMS and SOAP. The Web8 facility completes the picture, quickly adding
an HTML appearance to legacy COBOL/TP8 applications.
Fujitsu's history of acquisitions has given it a second mainframe system: Open/VME.
Originally ICL VME, Fujitsu inherited the legacy system when it acquired the
English company ICL in 1990. Generally limited to the UK and Commonwealth countries,
today Open/VME still drives the UK government's top three financial systems.
However its sales do not match Fujitsu's BS2000/OSD mainframe.
Open/VME's traditional Series 39 processors have now been retired, replaced
with Fujitsu's Intel Trimetra NOVA platforms. Open/VME includes POSIX functionality
for porting UNIX applications (hence Open in the name), and standard TCPIP functionality.
Agents allow Open/VME to work with ISV monitors such as CA-Unicenter and BMC
Fujitsu HostTalk opens up TPMS applications to the J2EE and JMS world, and
the Access to Oracle Databases product does exactly that. Oracle Tuxedo is another
doorway to legacy applications.
Like Bull, Fujitsu does not appear to be aggressively looking for new Open/VME
workloads. New languages such as Java and PHP, Eclipse plugins, or a native
J2EE solution are yet to be seen.
Fujitsu has stated that it will support Open/VME until at least 2020, though
even mentioning a date may make some customers nervous. It has also affirmed
that beyond 2020 it will enable VME-based applications to continue to
run, though this will be different from the present arrangements.
With such a large share of the market, it is no surprise that IBM has access
to the most resources to upgrade their System z mainframes. However other mainframes
haven't been left behind, and in all cases have been enhanced in an attempt
to retain existing customers. Many also look for new workloads with Java and
J2EE, new languages such as C/C++ and PHP, access to Oracle databases, POSIX
environments and GUI-based application development tools.
All non-IBM mainframes have seen the wisdom in offering a cheaper low-end Intel-based
mainframe model, if not retiring legacy processors altogether.
With continuing announcements of new hardware and software products, these
non-IBM mainframe manufacturers have indicated that their legacy mainframe systems
will be supported and enhanced for many years to come.