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Hardware Technology

Unisys Phasing Out Decades-Old Mainframe Processor For x86 113

Posted by Soulskill
from the get-off-my-lawn dept.
angry tapir writes: Unisys is phasing out its decades-old mainframe processor. The chip is used in some of Unisys' ClearPath flagship mainframes, but the company is moving to Intel's x86 chips in Libra and Dorado servers in the ClearPath line. The aging CMOS chip will be "sunsetted" in Libra servers by the end of August and in the Dorado line by the end of 2015. Dorado 880E and 890E mainframes will use the CMOS chip until the servers are phased out, which is set to happen by the end of 2015.
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Unisys Phasing Out Decades-Old Mainframe Processor For x86

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    why go with unisys when their new servers won't run your old crap. god knows anyone buying from them could spec out a xeon server from anywhere.

    • Probably because there is so much old code, and the new servers will just require a recompile rather than outright porting to a new OS?

      • Wrong. If Unisys mainframes are anything like IBM s390, then almost everything is written in assembler. So, unless they have a whole hardware translation / emulation layer, you can't just re-compile. Going to a new processor architecture if everything is written in assembler, its much easier just to throw everything out and re-start.
        • by Vlad_the_Inhaler (32958) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @10:04AM (#47262905) Homepage

          Speaking as someone who programs and administers computers on the Dorado line, that is total bollox. dreamchaser's post is also inaccurate.

          Part of the Exec (= OS) is written in Assembler, the rest is in a proprietary language called Plus (a bit like Pascal) or C.
          The same applies to processors and libraries provided by Unisys or third parties.
          User programs can be in Fortran, Cobol, C or Assembler. Pascal and PL/1 were dropped a few years back, use of Plus in non-Unisys-written code is unsupported.

          The key part of the article was Both the OSes will execute tasks on Intel's Xeon server chips through a firmware layer that translates the OS code for execution on x86 chips. Existing programs will work without recompilation, it is the Exec which needs to make the accomodations.

          I don't know much (ok, anything at all) about the Libre lines but the Dorado machines have some very unusual characteristics such as 9-bit bytes which would render anything other than hardware compatibility a total disaster necessitating a forced conversion to another platform immediately.

          • by idontgno (624372) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @10:20AM (#47263059) Journal

            I don't know much (ok, anything at all) about the Libre lines but the Dorado machines have some very unusual characteristics such as 9-bit bytes which would render anything other than hardware compatibility a total disaster necessitating a forced conversion to another platform immediately.

            Right. Goes back to the multiple-of-9-bit native word length of the the entire 11xx/22xx heritage, back to the Univac 418 [wikipedia.org]. Since bytes aren't the native access mode in that architecture anyway, they're an afterthought and rather harder to code for in assembler.

            That's not the only oddity of that architecture, too. 1s complement math? Negative zero?

            Yeah. I'm an old grey geek that started out on an 1180 back in the day. Mostly assembler real-time stuff.

            I'm a bit misty-eyed at the thought of that heritage code running, essentially, by run-time emulation rather than natively.

            Sic transit gloria mundi.

            • by jandrese (485)
              Wow, color me amazed that such an architecture still exists in 2014.
              • by riis138 (3020505)
                You know what they say, if it ain't broke....
              • you mean X86? (ba-doom boom!)
              • by Darinbob (1142669)

                36 bit words were very common for awhile, so a 9-bit byte is a somewhat natural extension from that. Such architectures existed as current state of the art models at the same time as the x86 direct ancestor, the 4004 was born.

                It seems a bit ironic that some people here seem to think that throwing all the old Unisys software and starting from scratch so that it can be replaced by a chip that has never been able to throw off its old baggage or compatibility shackles. After all today's core i7 processors are

                • by jandrese (485)

                  36 bit words were very common for awhile

                  Yes, back in the 70s. Fourty years ago. They have not been commonplace for decades. That's why I was impressed that they still exist and are were apparently still being updated. The x86 of today is almost nothing like a 8008 except for supporting it via microcode translation if someone wants to run some really old code. Chip development is expensive, you can't support it with a tiny niche market forever. At some point it becomes more efficient to just build an

                  • by Darinbob (1142669)

                    However, 48 bit processors exist today (some DSPs) and even some 36-bit processors (cores on an FPGA).

                    As for x86 versus 8008, yes they are not much alike whatsoever today. However if you look at all the chips in between, there are only relatively incremental changes between each new architecture in the family and each step includes some degree backwards compatibility with the prior architecture (either directly compatible or indirectly via simple program translation. There's never been a step where Intel

          • by sconeu (64226)

            Is Plus a derivative of SPRITE? When I interviewed at Burroughs back in '84, they were all excited about their new language SPRITE.

          • by AdamHaun (43173)

            I don't know much (ok, anything at all) about the Libre lines but the Dorado machines have some very unusual characteristics such as 9-bit bytes

            Nice to know there's still some non-DSP hardware out there with oddly-sized bytes. Maybe not so nice if you have to develop for it, but it gives me examples to point to when people ask why C's data types are defined the way they are.

            • by Darinbob (1142669)

              The 8-bit bytes is really sort of arbitrary. For quite some time there were many computers that did not have character addressible memory and the focus was on what word size was best. 36 bits words were common for some time, with an 18-bit half word being used on decsystem 10 which could hold a word pointer. So that 36 bits could either be 4 8-bit characters with an extra 4 bits for meta information (often used by garbage collector), or else 4 9-bit characters, 5 7-bit characters, or even 6 6-bit charact

          • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @12:22PM (#47264243)

            the Dorado machines have some very unusual characteristics such as 9-bit bytes

            Now I'm picturing Nigel in front of a rack of Unisys machines:

            "These go to nine bits."

    • The switch to x86 processors won't affect existing Unisys customers looking to upgrade older mainframes with faster systems. x86 Dorado servers will continue to support the ClearPath OS 2200 operating system, while the Libra line will support the ClearPath MCP operating system. Both the OSes will execute tasks on Intel's Xeon server chips through a firmware layer that translates the OS code for execution on x86 chips.

  • Half a century (Score:5, Informative)

    by Animats (122034) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @01:33AM (#47260715) Homepage

    That's over half a century of the UNIVAC 36-bit architecture, going back to the UNIVAC 1107 [wikipedia.org]. The operating system in use today, originally EXEC 8, later OS 1100, later OS 2200, first ran on the UNIVAC 1108 in 1966.

    Some programs from the 1970s will still run today. Some from that era are still being maintained and distributed.

    • Re:Half a century (Score:5, Interesting)

      by _merlin (160982) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @02:03AM (#47260781) Homepage Journal

      I first became aware of Unisys in the '80s when the Australian TV broadcasters used their stuff for instant replay, drawing annotations over stills, and slow motion. They got to display their "Unisys Computer" logo in the corner. Never actually had to use them professionally though. Looks like the future is becoming homogenous. IBM dropped the specialised AS/400 and System Z CPUs and migrated to POWER; everyone else seems to be dropping specialised CPUs and moving to x86 or POWER as well.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I thought the special effects of that nature in the 80s were done by Qantels?

        • by _merlin (160982)

          Probably depended on the broadcaster. Whoever had the rights to broadcast the cricket in Sydney in the late 80s was using Unisys, and displaying their branding.

          • by torsmo (1301691)
            I remember seeing a test match between Australia and New Zealand on Nine, which had the Unisys logo, if my memory serves me right.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yep, X86 is definitely taking over. http://regmedia.co.uk/2011/01/05/nvidia-arm-x86-shipments.gif

        • The graph flattens off and starts to dip at 2009, then the steep rise after that is an estimate. they could just have easily drawn a line going downwards.
      • by bytesex (112972)

        Wasn't Unisys in the eighties still Sperry and Univac?

        • by Anonymous Coward

          They merged in 1986.

        • Sperry Univac was one company back then, probably formed by a merger or takeover in the 60's or 70's (I can't be bothered to look up Wackypedia).

          What happened in 1986 was that Burroughs' CEO (Michael Blumenthal, previously Secretary for somethingorother in the Carter administration) launched a Leveraged Buyout of Sperry. Sperry fought it but lost, the resulting company was then renamed Unisys and had so much debt from the takeover that it had to divest assets to simply survive. Blumenthal himself did very

      • IBM Z-series mainframes still use a customized CPU, although the i-Series did indeed move to POWER some time ago.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I... [wikipedia.org]

        • IBM Z-series mainframes still use a customized CPU, although the i-Series did indeed move to POWER some time ago.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I... [wikipedia.org]

          I was under the impression that the POWER chipset was specifically designed as a chip realization of the iSeries CPU, actually dating back to when it was still the AS/400, possibly even the System/38.

          IBM fielded a desktop mainframe (the Model 9000) that contained a pair of Motorola MC68000 chips, one with a special mask for the System/360 instruction set. The instruction architecture of the MC68000 was a lot like the System/360 instruction architecture, so it was a good fit.

          Unfortunately, the Model 9000 was

        • The Z-series and POWER are not quite separate chips. They're separate instruction decoders but they're largely the same pipelines after that. There are some tweaks, but within a generation they share more design than either does with the previous generation of the same processor.
          • That largely applies to pretty much everything but there are actual cases where Z and P are incredibly different so unifying their back-end implementations will be potentially limiting in the future. Specifically, I am referring to memory coherence model: Z assumes a rigid write-back ordering where P allowed these to be highly out of sync, between cores. Now, I am not sure if any modern P implementations actually exploit this flexibility so the difference might be moot but this decision could be limiting

      • IBM is deploying system I on power now but they are still making custom z processors for the mainframe, although the mainframe can also have some power and x86 processors they really aren't for mainframe processing just hi RAS local access for offloading certain workloads. It's going to be interesting what arm does. There are multiple vendors looking at arm based servers with hp already having one out.
      • by Megol (3135005)

        That is a (in some circles) popular myth but not reality. IBM still designs and manufacture the Z line that still are compatible with (most) old 360 software.
        While IBM could use an emulator it would be hard or impossible to keep up the performance running dusty decks and there would be another rather complex emulation layer that would need to be verified while keeping the extreme reliability the customers expect from their mainframes.

        What is true is that there is some cross pollination of ideas and building

      • Hmm... Did somebody forget to tell IBM? They released their 32nm based z-series chips a couple years back, and appear to be on track to release their next 22nm based chip within the next year.
    • Uh, I thought this was the descendant of Burroughs B5000? You know, the computer that Alan Kay tells everyone to take a look at to understand how silly today's architectures look in comparison.
      • Re:Half a century (Score:4, Informative)

        by Guy Harris (3803) <guy@alum.mit.edu> on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @03:02AM (#47260881)

        Uh, I thought this was the descendant of Burroughs B5000? You know, the computer that Alan Kay tells everyone to take a look at to understand how silly today's architectures look in comparison.

        It's both the descendants of the 36-bit Univac 1108 and the 48-bit-plus-tags Burroughs 6500 (very much like, but not compatible with, the B5000).

        • Re:Half a century (Score:5, Informative)

          by Required Snark (1702878) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @05:11AM (#47261151)
          The Burroughs part is a tagged memory architecture. There is no assembler, a variant of ALGOL is the system programming language. It's a hardware stack machine. Each memory word has tag bits that identify what kind of information is stored. Memory addressing is through segments, which do hardware bounds checking. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burroughs_large_systems [wikipedia.org] for details.

          The hardware and software were designed concurrently. This means that the system is very efficient and not very prone to software errors. Because of the hardware addressing mechanisms and the memory protection bits, this machine was immune to many of the security issues that plague modern CPU architectures. It is near to impossible to break security, because it is enforced by a combination of hardware and software. No current x86/Power/Sparc/??? will ever be as secure as this kind of machine. (The Mill CPU has some of the same characteristics, but lacks tagged memory bits in main memory.)

          As a field, computing took a wrong turn when it went after MIPS as a measure of "goodness". Using hardware resources to enforce secure computing address the fundamental problem of writing reliable software. It protects against coding errors and against malicious attacks. Now that hardware is cheap, the additional cost of tag bits in memory or address range checking could be easily supported.

          But we're stuck with fast insecure architectures and there seems to be no turning back. It wouldn't be surprising that current systems are in fact less efficient when you take into account the cost of trying to make insecure hardware secure along with the costs associated with software failures and stolen data, corrupted data bases, down time, debugging, etc. (By the way, Burroughs systems had great up times, which was also true of Symbolics Lisp systems, which also had memory tag bits and was programmed from the bottom up in a high level language.)

          • by Darinbob (1142669)

            A problem with Burroughs' machines though is that they kept a tight control over the languages that could be used with it. At my university someone had wanted to write a Lisp system for it and needed to actually get permission from Burroughs first lest their code break other programs on the system. In some sense a part of the security involved only using approved Burrough's tools. because you really could screw up the machine if you used some code that did unusual things (there may not have been an assemb

      • by Nutria (679911)

        I thought this was the descendant of Burroughs B5000?

        TFA explains that one line is from Sperry, and the other from Burroughs.

      • by Animats (122034)

        Uh, I thought this was the descendant of Burroughs B5000? You know, the computer that Alan Kay tells everyone to take a look at to understand how silly today's architectures look in comparison.

        That's the other Unisys line; they have an A-series (from Burroughs) and a B-series (from UNIVAC).

        I used a B5500, at UC Santa Cruz, in a summer course on computer architecture in 1975, taught by one of its designers. Burroughs donated the obsolete machine, and we stepped it through instructions from its maintenance panel, watching the stack hardware work. We were also taken up to Xerox PARC to meet Alan Kay and see the original prototype Alto machines, years before Steve Jobs did. (They were really Data G

        • I used a B5500, at UC Santa Cruz, in a summer course on computer architecture in 1975, taught by one of its designers. Burroughs donated the obsolete machine, and we stepped it through instructions from its maintenance panel, watching the stack hardware work. We were also taken up to Xerox PARC to meet Alan Kay and see the original prototype Alto machines, years before Steve Jobs did. (They were really Data General Nova machines inside, with different microcode.)

          The Altos were not too Nova-like, but the built-in part of their microcode did implement the Nova instruction set (except that the I/O instructions were used for other stuff). Alan had been previously using Novas in his projects (Smalltalk-72 was first implemented in Nova BASIC and then assembly, for example) and this allowed him to quickly port to the Alto.

  • I'm still mad at Unisys for abusing the GIF patent.
  • Case Mod (Score:1, Offtopic)

    I want to case mod an old AN/UYK-7 chassis and panel with a multi-core motherboard and storage. Anyone know where to shop?
  • by rudy_wayne (414635) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @02:32AM (#47260825)

    http://esj.com/articles/2010/1... [esj.com]

    Oct 19, 2010

    " This week the company updated its Libra and Dorado mainframe lines, touting a new all-Intel architecture,"

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The Unisys systems are ones-complement, 36-bit systems, with overlay managers for their banks of memory; the Univac side of the house still supports running 'lost-deck' code from the 1950s. As in, the executable exists, but the source code was lost decades ago. So there is NO way to 'just recompile'.

    • Seconded.
      There are two character-sets which are in use, an ancient 6-bit one which is still used for a lot of internal functions and 9-bit ascii. The 6-bit one is mostly used by systems programmers.

  • ... to me was that Unisys was still selling computer systems. The only time I thought about the company in recent years was when dealing with their help desk software package. Prior to that my last contact with the company was having to use an aging 110x mainframe that was running EXEC-something. A horrible user interface, BTW. It seemed to be designed to make using the system a major pain in the butt. I was so happy when a co-worker pointed out that I could move my code onto the PDP-11 and actually get som

  • I played in a band with a guy who sold some significant patents to Unisys for their mainframes and worked in the CTO office. Smart guy, actually worked as a pro musician for a while in the 70s with David Bromberg (session player for the hippie giants like Joan Baez). 6 or 7 years ago, I was interviewing a guy applying to be my manager. He also worked at Unisys, and so I asked him if he knew the guy with the IP, and he got a funny look on his face - he did know him, and said there was antagonism in that rela
  • So, Unisys is still selling proprietary hardware and operating systems.

    IBM's continued existence as a mainframe manufacturer doesn't surprise me too much. That's a big installed base that's in no hurry to move to other platforms.

    DEC's OpenVMS is still around, though the Alpha hardware is not long for this world (if it isn't already gone). Has HP ported OpenVMS to anything with a brighter future than Itanium?

    Even though I never did anything with Univac machines, it does make me a little sad to see anoth

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