Unisys gives virtualisation jolt to its datacentre strategy

Beset by financial problems, Unisys on Tuesday is announcing a strategy that shifts its servers and storage business from a hardware-centric tack to a more holistic approach emphasising a combination of hardware, software and services, including virtualisation offerings.


Unisys is upgrading its Intel-based server line by adding quad-core processors to its ES3000 servers and releasing an ES5000 series of blade servers.

But instead of focusing primarily on hardware, Unisys says it has formed two new software partnerships and is boosting the services around its servers and storage business. The goal is to target a growing market for "real-time infrastructure," an industry buzz-phrase that describes components such as servers and storage as being dynamically linked to business requirements. Part of that is helping customers implement virtual servers with tools such as those made by VMware, Unisys officials say.

"Our approach with this specific initiative is vendor agnostic," says Colin Lacey, vice president of systems and storage at Unisys. "If we have a customer running on someone else's platform or a mix of platforms, we support a heterogeneous platform mix."

Unisys is targeting large enterprise customers. Service engagements related to this initiative would take weeks or months, depending on the extent of discovery, modeling and blueprint services needed by each customer, company officials say.

Unisys is in the midst of a "multi-year repositioning program" spurred by poor financial results, the company said in a recent SEC filing. Unisys posted an operating income of US$85.9m in 2007, but a net loss of $79.1m when factoring in costs for workforce reductions, facility consolidations and retirement expenses. Company employees have suffered several rounds of layoffs in the past few years.

The datacentre initiative rolled out this week is an attempt to improve revenue by targeting new parts of the marketplace with faster growth rates, Lacey says.

"This approach aims to reduce the IT staff time it takes to buy multiple point products and services associated with deploying a virtualized IT environment. Unisys is partnering with other companies, making this an open solution," IDC analyst Jean Bozman writes in an e-mail. The moves seem aimed at competing more directly with server vendors such as IBM, HP, Sun and Dell, all of whom are developing virtualisation programs, Bozman says.

Unisys seeks to differentiate itself with "its focus on reducing operational costs related to IT staff time - and on deploying virtualisation in mission-critical computing environments," she says.

Unisys has partnered with Scalent to offer virtualisation of network and storage interfaces, making it easier to shift server resources on the fly, says Al Bender, vice president and general manager of real-time infrastructure for Unisys. The company is also partnering with Enigmatec to provide run book automation services to orchestrate IT processes, Bender says.

A new set of middleware and services called the Unisys Infrastructure Management Suite includes several more tools for automation, related to disaster recovery, provisioning and management of virtual servers, and testing and development. The virtual server tool lets users request virtual servers or desktops and receive the resources within minutes, Bender says.

Unisys says its new servers will simplify virtualisation and reduce power consumption and cooling costs. The ES5000 blade server line comes with "flexible I/O configuration options and advanced local and remote management interfaces," the company states. One blade server with Ethernet and Fibre Channel switching will start at $17,500.

Three products in the ES3000 line of mid-range servers are being upgraded with Intel's latest quad-core Xeon processors, while a new server in this line is a two-socket, quad-core device. These servers start at about $3,000 each, the company says.

Unisys also has the ES7000 line of servers for high-end enterprise customers, and will add a quad-core, eight-processor server in the second quarter.

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