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Unisys Jumpstarts Server Line with JVM

Unisys Corp. has previously tried to leverage its mainframe reputation and transform itself into a dominant force in the server business. But since the dawn of the Aries or Orion families of its ES7000 line of servers in March 2000, the company has seen relatively meager success.

But on Monday, Unisys is hoping to jumpstart that business by adding the magical "write-once, run-anytime" capabilites of Java that has become such a crucial component of server-side computing. The Blue Bell, Pa.-based computer company is making available a new Java Virtual Machine (JVM), which can be downloaded from the Internet free of charge, for its entire ES7000 server line. Unisys claims to be the first to offer a high-performance Java-compatible computing platform on the so-called WinTel architecture -- which has long been a trademark of Unisys's niche business.

"Unisys is an enterprise company and has built an enterprise-class JVM for a Windows environment," said Walt Lapinsky, director of strategic software at Unisys.

Unisys has long offered Java-support for its ClearPath mainframe line and over half of the ClearPath customer base utilizes Java components on an enterprise level, Lapinsky told internetnews.com. A number of the customer base of the ES7000 servers also run Java-compatible components like BEA Systems WebLogic application server in a Windows environment although Unisys officials declined to quantify the exact percentage. That's probably because until today, Unisys clients working with Java on the ES7000s had to fend for themselves.

"If you were running a Microsoft server, you had to get your own JVM from Sun for Windows. Sun doesn't put any work in scaling it to a large scale Windows environment," explained Rob Wilkinson, senior marketing manager at Unisys.

In contrast, the Unisys JVM is designed for the enterprise characteristics on the following Microsoft operating systems: Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition, Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition, Windows 2000 Datacenter Server and Windows 2000 Advanced Server. The technology is based on Sun's Java version 1.4 and can scale up to 32-way processing.

In fact, one independent software vendor that served as a test partner registered an increase of simultaneous users from 3,750 to 5,000 and saw response times drop by one-third using the JVM in an ES7000 environment.

Reaction: So what?!
But given the other challenges that Unisys faces competing in the server market, analysts still aren't entirely impressed by Unisys's latest initiative. Unisys committed very early on (some would argue too early) in the market of so-called "Big Iron Windows systems" -- perhaps even before the Windows environment itself was ready to tackle all of the functionality and capacity of high-end, scalable, high-performance computing. But now that Microsoft finally came out with platforms like Windows 2000 and even moreso with the recently launched Windows Server 2003 that match proprietary UNIX systems in power, competitors like IBM and Hewlett-Packard have been trying to attack on Unisys's niche but burgeoning business.

"I'm not sure some incremental software will change that positioning or challenge," said Gordon Haff, senior analyst at Illuminata. "JVMs are certainly a piece of having large-scale systems. But really, it's just one piece."

To its credit, the Unisys JVM does have its own value proposition. Enterprises or organizations that want to take advantage of Java in their app servers no longer need to turn to expensive propositions like WebLogic or IBM's Websphere. Because the JVM is optimized for high-performance Windows environments, they instead can even run JBoss -- the open source app server -- as an inexpensive alternative. That is, in fact, the ideal customer that Unisys is targeting: "clients who don't need a full-blown J2EE WebLogic but need to do Java in a 32-bit environment."

"We're more than happy to allow the client to procure whatever they need for an app server," Wilkinson explained.

But while Unisys's efforts are noble, it still faces an uphill battle.

"Buyers are tending to go toward suppliers who can give them the whole portfolio of products and servers," Haff said. While he does acknowledge that Unisys has a "very good" services organization, the Illuminata explained that price isn't necessarily the focus particularly in the high-end of the computing market.

"Particularly in that scale of system, functionality and track record are more important than cost. For example, Sun gives away app servers on Solaris. A lot of people still buy Websphere or BEA. It's nice to provide that but the experience elsewhere in the industry is that most people still end up with the proven entities," Haff concluded.