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Windows for Mainframes?

By ServerWatch Staff (Send Email)
Posted Dec 22, 2000


Wim Verveen

Traditionally Windows is an operating system of desktop machines. With the introduction of Windows NT 3.1 this changed a bit, Windows could now also present on small servers. Back then we didn't expect it to run on any large machine. As time went by Windows grew, until it basically stopped at 4-8 way machines. There was no Intel hardware available with more processors to run on and besides, Windows NT had scalability problems which prevented it from running on larger machines even if they would have been available. With these restrictions Windows was destined to stay into office networks and small application servers. The big boys we're still large UNIX machine running with lots of hardware and very powerful ... and expensive. With the introduction of Windows 2000 things have changed. Windows 2000 is scalable up to 32 processors. Windows 2000 successors will be 64 bit, Windows 2000 can handle more memory than it's predecessor. Finally a Windows version ready for the big league. But. No hardware to run on! Even the largest Intel hardware only offered 8 processors. Until UNISYS came to the scene that is. UNISYS has years of experience making Mainframes so it would seem to be a bit strange at first. But Boy do they make an appearance!

Traditionally Windows is an operating system of desktop machines. With the introduction of Windows NT 3.1 this changed a bit, Windows could now also present on small servers. Back then we didn't expect it to run on any large machine. As time went by Windows grew, until it basically stopped at 4-8 way machines.

Figure 1: A base config of the ES7000 You can see the processor and memory modules and the communication parts(DIB) wich houses the PCI busses

UNISYS has created the largest and fastest Intel based computer ever on this planet. The UNISYS ES7000 offers 32 processors which can be 64 bits as they come available. It can handle up to 64 Gigabytes of Memory and supports 96 PCI cards. All the parts are HOT-plug gable, HOT-swappable and HOT-everything. Traditionally scaling becomes a problem with Intel Hardware as soon as you scale up beyond 4 processors. This is because there can be only 4 processors connected directly to each other. When more processors are present a bus architecture is used to add 4 more processors. However, this can have a severe impact on performance adding little extra benefit for the price you have to pay. The engineers who made the ES7000 solved this problem by creating a whole new architecture with their mainframe knowledge in mind and introduced Cellular Multiprocessing (CMP). The hardware in the ES7000 is connected by something called a 'crossbar' which creates point to point connection between different parts of the machine. This enables the ES7000 to get a near linear performance gain when more processors are added. With this technology the machine is divided in modular parts consisting of processor modules, memory modules and communication modules. The entire unit is controlled by a special guard unit wich incidentally runs Windows NT workstation. The unit monitors the health of the different modules, the Fan units and power units. All parts are made redundant, even the guard unit.

Figure 2: The ES7000 inside. The 3 large vents on top are clearly visible, then the control units and harddisks. Next are the memory units and Processor blocks.  The backside mirrors this layout.

The ES7000 supports hardware partitioning, which means that the entire unit can be divided in several instances who can run an OS on their own. This way the ES7000 can be dived in up to 8 different partitions. Especially because this configuration can be altered (in the future even dynamically) this can have some interesting applications. An example would be combining a test and production machine. If volume tests are needed in the weekend resources can be shifted tot the test machine which than can run real life tests.

Figure 3: A CPU unit. The size comes apparant because of the person holding it

Is also would be possible to run a 'cluster in a box' or to combine two application servers which could share load like a database server and a mailserver. The database server would need more resources during batch jobs running in the night. The mailserver needs more resources during the day. The two machines could dynamically use each others processors. There is currently no Intel based offering which is as powerful as the ES7000. Several companies who know make similar machines like COMPAQ and HP in fact license the ES7000.

Figure 4: Hardware partitioning in action. Alle these instances of Windows 2000 are in fact just one machine

The ES7000 is perfect match for Windows 2000 Datacenter. It has the scalability and reliability which is demanded in environments which we're the realm of UNIX before. Using Windows instead of UNIX on such a platform can have several advantages. The ES7000 is cheaper than most UNIX offerings and you can still use Windows protecting you're current investments in you're installed base.

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