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Unisys Rolls Out Computing on Demand for Intel-Based Servers

How would you like to pay for a four-processor server that really has eight chips inside? How about if you won't have to pay for those extra chips unless and until you use them? Talk to Unisys.

The makers of the Wintel mainframe are taking another page out of the high-end enterprise market playbook and bringing it to the Windows and Linux on Intel market.

Unisys calls the program the Real Time Capacity series of servers, or RTC servers. They're based on the Unisys ES7000, the Blue Bell, Pa.-based company's six-year-old line of Intel processor servers that support as many as 32 processors in a box.

"We allow the client, on his own, in a self-service manner, to go to his workstation, click an icon, and within 15 minutes he's up to capacity," says Mark Feverston, vice president of platforms for systems and technologies at Unisys. "We're trying to help him to get around the problem of having to buy all of his capacity that he's predicted to need over the next three or four years up front."

Customers will have a choice of three base server packages. A four-processor system with four additional locked processors; an eight-processor system with four additional locked processors; and a 12-processor system with four additional locked processors. Unisys can fulfill other configuration requests, but company officials expect those three offerings to cover most of the demand. Customers can choose either Intel Xeon or Intel Itanium 2 processors.

The prices for the RTC sytems build in about a 10 percent premium at the front end. But Feverston says the pricing structure is designed so that if a customer uses all the processors eventually, they will have paid no more than if they had bought the fully loaded system to start with. So the four-way (with four spare chips) starts at about $35,000, which is more than a non-RTC four-way from Unisys. But once you take the RTC four-way up to an eight-way, your total cost is no more than if you had bought a Unisys non-RTC eight-way in the first place, according to Feverston.

Additionally, customers can choose to use the excess capacity temporarily. For example, retail stores might unlock the processors at Christmas or Mother's Day. The cost of temporarily enabling processors (sold in 15-day increments) is about a quarter of the cost of doing the permanent upgrade. Once a customer uses the temporary capacity four times, Unisys will permanently unlock the processor. Even with that scenario, Feverston says, the Unisys model ensures customers don't pay more than they would have paid for a non-RTC, fully loaded system. In other words, no rent-to-own gouging here.

One other feature of the program is that Unisys will help customers navigate the complexity of Windows licensing. "If a guy has eight processors and he adds the ninth one, in the Windows world that means he's in [Windows Server 2003] Datacenter [Edition]. We make sure that's what he has," Feverston says.

Meanwhile, there's no contractual obligation to turn on the processors, temporarily or permanently. "We're partnering with them and sharing the risk by putting in the additional capacity. If they never turn the capacity on, that's OK, and we're not forcing them to do that," Feverston says.

IDC analyst Jean Bozman says Windows customers may be ready for such a capacity-on-demand solution.

"It's not for every workload. It's for the workloads where you want to support the most users -- the most scalable workload that you have, usually a database," Bozman says. "I think over time you're going to see more demand for things like this."

Bozman says Unisys' heritage makes the program a logical fit. "It's not surprising that Unisys would come along with something like this because they come from a mainframe background," she said. "This capacity on demand has really become more popular among these more scalable servers, but has not been generally available on Windows servers."

Meanwhile, Bozman notes, Unisys has established itself as a very major player when it comes to sales of high-end Windows systems.

While the company commanded less than 2 percent of the $15.9 billion worldwide market for Windows-based server systems in 2004, Unisys' share is very high in the highest price bands that IDC tracks.

In the Windows-based server systems market, Unisys sales accounted for 29 percent of systems costing $100,000-$249,999, 75 percent of systems priced between $250,000-$499,999 and 44 percent of systems going for more than $500,000, IDC research shows.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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