Unisys Keeps Pushing ES7000 Performance Up, Cost Down
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
While server makers have been making behemoths that span to 32 or 64 processors for a number of years, the sweet spot in the server market keeps drifting downward as more powerful processors get delivered on the schedule that is roughly set by Moore's Law. Vendors get judged on peak performance of their biggest, baddest boxes, but they make their bread on more modest machines. This is why server maker Unisys, which has for three years been the staunchest supporters of Windows in the datacenter, recently spent big bucks to prove the ES7000 Wintel mainframes deliver the best bang for the buck in the 16-way and 32-way server space.
Right now, the ES7000s scale up to 32 processors in a single system image using Intel's 32-bit Xeon processors and up to 16 processors using the 64-bit Itaniums. Rival IBM is still selling a 16-way xSeries 445 that uses Xeons MPs and a 16-way xSeries 455 that uses Itanium 2s. Hewlett-Packard sells the eight-way ProLiant DL760 and DL780 using Xeon MPs, and its Integrity line of Itanium 2 machines, which today scales up to 64-way processing, will scale up to 128-way processing with the delivery of the mx2 dual Madison modules. NEC has its own 32-way Express5800 1000 series servers, which use the Itanium 2s as well. Unisys is not trying to build the most scalable X86 server on the market, but one that scales further than real customers need it to, and it is trying to win the price/performance battle.
That said, Mark Feverston, vice president of platform marketing for enterprise servers at Unisys, says that a 32-way ES7000 with Itanium processors will be available in the not too distant future. Although he would not confirm this, Unisys is probably working on a launch of such a machine concurrent with the delivery of the Madison processors running at 1.7 GHz or 1.8 GHz with 9 MB of L3 cache memory, which are expected around September. Feverston says that the sweet spot for Unisys has been for machines with between eight and 16 processors, and that the company has a 40-percent share of the enterprise Windows server market (meaning machines that cost more than $50,000). He says that Unisys is attacking two markets: some Unix shops that can jump from 64-bit platforms to Itanium machines running Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition, and the many Windows shops that simply need a bigger 32-bit Windows environment.
"The benchmarks prove that architecture counts, especially when customers are coming from mainframe-class Unix platforms," Feverston says. "They don't have to worry." He says that the ES7000s can squeeze more performance out of Intel processors than rival machines in the same power class, in large part because of the I/O and caching subsystems in the ES7000s, which means that on the back end, Unisys can use a mix of fast (and expensive) and slow (and cheap) disk drives to get the same kind of performance that other vendors need fast disks and subsystems to attain. "The system I/O is balanced, just like in our mainframes, and that allows us to remove a lot of housekeeping off the processors." This means the processors can do more work, and that is why Unisys is a big supporter of the TPC-C online transaction processing benchmark test.
Unisys offers reseller discounts on its configurations--15 percent on the two latest benchmark tests on its 16-way ES7000 Orion 540 server using 2.2 GHz/2 MB L3 cache and 3 GHz/4 MB L3 cache processors. After those discounts, Unisys can sell a configured machine for around $5 per transaction per minute (TPM). After a 10 percent discount, a 16-way xSeries 445 from IBM costs nearly $9 per TPM running the same test on the same software. And the Unisys box does about 10 percent more work, too. If this were the Unix market, IBM would be cutting discounts of around 50 percent to demonstrate parity with Unisys, but the TPC has cracked down recently on such unrealistic discounts.
Specifically, using the faster 3 GHz Xeon MP processors, the 16-way ES7000 was able to do 237,869 TPM running Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition and SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition. The machine was configured with 64 GB of main memory and 12.5 TB of disk storage, with the server, storage, application clients, and service for three years costing $1.27 million; after discounts, that brought the cost down to $5.08 per TPM. By moving to the slower 2.2 GHz Xeon MPs, throughput on this box dropped to 212,511 TPM, and the system cost dropped to just over $1 million before discounts, yielding a price/performance of $4.12 per TPM. Unisys can demonstrate performance of 304,148 TPM on a 32-way ES7000 using the fastest 3 GHz Xeon MPs, but those extra 16 processors do not come close to doubling performance (as they do not in every other server architecture). And the extra cost of that box, which is probably memory constrained at 64 GB, drives the cost per transaction up to $6.18 after a 15 percent discount. A 16-way ES7000 Aries 420 server using the 1.5GHz/6MB L3 cache Itanium 2 processors was tested in January, and it could handle 309,037 TPM at a cost of $4.49 per TPM running the 64-bit versions of Microsoft's stack. Until 64-bit Xeon MPs are available with the future "Potomac" chips, the Itanium chip will remain a better choice for the biggest workloads.
Feverston says that price is not as much of a deal for customers moving off Unix iron (although saving money is one of the reasons why they make the jump) as it is for Windows shops that are outgrowing four-way and eight-way Xeon MP servers. Because Unisys is aggressively trying to sell to those Windows shops, where price is an issue, it has been steadily driving down prices. IBM will likely follow suit with the Summits, leaving these two vendors to slug it out in this Xeon part of the market while HP and NEC come at it from the side with their 32-way and 64-way Itanium boxes.