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LongEx Mainframe Quarterly - November 2010

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 the mainframe.

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 Clearpath

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 and MCP.

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 programming languages.

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.

Fujitsu BS2000/OSD

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 Fujitsu.

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.

HP Non-Stop

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 Jimmy Treybig.

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 June.

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 Open/VME

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 PATROL.

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.

David Stephens

LongEx Quarterly is a quarterly eZine produced by Longpela Expertise. It provides Mainframe articles for management and technical experts. It is published every November, February, May and August.

The opinions in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the opinions of any other person or organisation. All trademarks, trade names, service marks and logos referenced in these articles belong to their respective companies.

Although Longpela Expertise may be paid by organisations reprinting our articles, all articles are independent. Longpela Expertise has not been paid money by any vendor or company to write any articles appearing in our e-zine.

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