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Unisys tries its hand at converged infrastructure

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June 25, 2014

IT services provider Unisys is the latest firm to test the waters at converged infrastructure, or something that looks very similar.

To be sure, Unisys actually walked away from proprietary silicon about ten years ago, concentrating instead on x86-powered ClearPath mini mainframes instead.

In 2013, the company unveiled the first of a new range of servers named “Forward” and today added four more models to its portfolio.

Models 4150 and 4120 use the Xeon E7 CPU and offer up to 48 and 60 processor cores, respectively, per node.

The new 2080 and 2100 feature the Xeon E5 2600 v2, support up to 16 and 20 processor cores and up to 12 partitions per node, with 384 gigabytes of memory per partition.

These rigs' nodes connect with an Infiniband backplane connecting them together. Storage can come from NetApp or EMC, but everything is sold in pre-configured and signed-off sets in much the same manner as an Oracle's appliances or other converged infrastructure setups.

'Forward' is aimed at applications like ERP that need scale, stability and a vendor with a track record of running mission critical apps at scale.

Unisys' talk of partitions is a reference to sPar, a mainframe-derived partitioning tool that the company now says offers containerisation.

Unisys' own twist on the concept Docker has recently made it so popular to run different operating system instances on one processor, without a hypervisor.

As explained by Vic Herring, Unisys' Australia's ClearPath product manager for APAC and Japan, s-Par can tap into Intel's VT-x instructions directly.

This arrangement delivers the resource-allocation fun of virtualisation, but with a lesser overhead.

Just last week in fact, Unisys made some research available proclaiming that s-Par and Forward on NetApp storage deliver better and more stable throughput than “an industry-standard virtualisation hypervisor.

s-Par is currently bundled with Forward, but Herring told us that will change by the end of 2014 when Unisys publishes reference architectures allowing would-be customers to run up their own servers.

At that point, s-Par will become something one can buy as traditional software. With interest in containerisation running popular right now, Unisys will have a job to do explaining how its own version of the technology differs from Docker's and similar efforts.

In other IT news

It's reported that Russia's government is planning to drop Intel and AMD processors in favor of locally-developed ARM central processing units.

This would suggest that 3 state-owned Russian hardware companies are forming a partnership to develop what will soon be dubbed “Baikal”.

The newly proposed initiative would use ARM's 64-bit kernel Cortex A-57 processor as its base design, offer at least eight cores, and would be built with a 28 nm process.

The new ARM processor would run at about 2 GHz or more in PCs or servers. It's assumed that Baikal will be delivered to the authorities and state-owned companies sometime in 2014.

Russia's ”central state information agency” ITR-TASS writes that Baikal “will be installed on computers of government bodies and in state-run firms, which purchase some 700,000 personal computers annually worth about $500 million and 300,000 servers worth another $800 million.”

ITR-TASS adds that Baikal will find its home in computers run by state-owned entities, suggesting that there's a national security angle behind the decision.

That's didn't stop blogging site Phoronix from declaring that “For strict security enthusiasts believing AMD and Intel have been compromised by the NSA or other U.S. agencies, it's time to celebrate.”

Setting aside that kind of thinking, a move to 64-bit ARM processing by entities that collectively acquire a million devices a year would be significant simply because of the scale it would give ARM-based servers and PCs in Russia.

But currently, such devices are largely hypothetical to say the least. However, with Amazon Web Services, Google and Facebook all reported to be considering their own ARM designs to keep their servers' operating costs down, general interest in that concept is considerable.

And understandably, startups are having a go as well-- at Computex recently, we met Cavium, a new vendor of 48-core chips that it's aiming mostly at the low-end server market.

To be sure, Cavium's staff includes some people from failed ARM chipmaker Calxeda, who told us last week they feel that effort didn't work simply because not enough enterprise software runs on ARM.

That's no longer quite such an issue, however. If Russia follows this path, and the rules of open source engage in a significant manner, that problem could disappear rather quickly.

In other IT news

Ask any experienced programmer and they will tell you that it's a job that involves very long hours sitting in front of a screen, typing characters and code on a keyboard while trying to ignore people having a good time outside, enjoying life to its fullest.

It's probably one of the main reasons why young women aren't drawn to become computer programmers, and can you blame them?

With that in mind, Google has launched a new $50 million initiative to encourage young women in getting involved in the lucrative world of coding, even tough some may still find it a bit boring.

“Very soon, programming is a basic skill that’s going to be a part of almost everything,” said Megan Smith, vice president of R&D at the Google X Lab.

“So at a minimum, for youngsters to be able to express themselves in code and make things and feel confident, that would be important — no matter what their career is,” she added.

Google also launched the Made With Code website, showcasing all the interesting things which can be produced by coding.

The website clearly emphasises community and friendship, showing young women that they can be successful if they become a computer programmer.

But like anything else that's truly worthwhile, there's a long way to get there-- and that simply won't happen overnight.

According to Google's in-house numbers, just 0.4 percent of American young women choose to major in computer science.

"Television and movie pop culture often depicts computer science as all about sitting in a dark room, in front of a small screen, processing cascades of numbers and code," Google warned.

"In reality, programming includes the knowledge and skills necessary to build the next generation of software and hardware tools that the world needs. Computing skills can enable girls to pursue their passions, no matter what they are. Coding touches every field a girl could work in, from medicine to race-car driving," said Google.

So what about female-dominated professions? What's being done to encourage men to become vets, nurses, social workers or teachers - professions which come with superb pensions, unparalleled job security and, arguably, have at least as big an impact on society as computer programmers?

So Google is dead serious on this new program and is investing its money wisely. It's a well known fact that young people have been enrolling less and less in computer science in the last ten to twelve years, and Google clearly wants to change that.

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In other IT news

IDC recently said that 2014's first quarter was a downer for high-end storage sales, but now it also predicts that things are looking up in storage used for what it now calls high performance data analysis (HPDA).

IDC's vice president for HPC and data analysis Steve Conway places HDPA in perspective with a quote explaining that it's the kind of hardware one would buy for a high performance server, but applied to analytics.

“To be sure, leading commercial companies in a variety of industries are turning to HPC technologies for challenging big data analytics workloads that enterprise IT technology alone cannot tackle effectively,” he writes.

“HPC systems can handle more complex queries, more variables, and faster turnaround requirements,” he added.

Throw in the fact that the likes of Hadoop emerged from the HPC-inspired rigs at hyperscale web operators and just what HDPA involves become even clearer.

IDC says that the field is also going to be a big business. Compounded annual growth rates of 23.5 percent will result in US $4.3 billion of HDPA technology each year, IDC added.

About $2.7 billion of that will be for servers and a further $1.7 billion will be storage. A companion study, Worldwide High-Performance Data Analysis Storage 2014–2018 Forecast, says storage sales will increase at an even faster pace, with 2013's HDPA storage sales of $514 million to grow at 26.5 percent to reach 2018's predicted total.

The analyst firm says this HDPA initiative is its first formal effort in the field, but that it plans to do it more often in near future.

In other IT news

NetApp said earlier this morning that it has completed the overhauling of its unified storage FAS arrays with FAS-2500s at the low-end and a bigger FAS-8080 EX on the high end of the range.

We got the basic details, except for the FAS 8080 which has 36 TB of virtual storage tier flash and not the 18 TB we initially expected.

The new solution can scale up to 69 PB through clustering and handle 600+ IO connections.

Just a quick point about the scale-out-- the FAS-8080 EX can scale to 24 nodes (12 high-availability pairs) with file access but only 8 nodes (4 HA pairs) with SAN access.

The separate V-Series goes away as a hardware implementation, with its software now incorporated in Data OnTap.

At the low-end, the FAS-2220 gets replaced with the FAS-2520, the FASA-2240 with the FAS-2552 and the FAS-3220 with the FAS-2554, completing the removal of the mid-range FAS-3200s, the FAS-3250 having been replaced by the FAS-8020 a few weeks ago.

NetApp says the FAS-2500s, with the 4 TB of flash, can accelerate workloads by up to 46 percent and increase usable capacity by 48 percent.

The entire FAS hardware range has been refreshed in just five months and now characterized as hybrid flash+disk or, with the FAS-8000s, all-flash, if users configure them that way.

Source: Unisys.

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