Monday, 26 May 2008

What’s in a data centre – or the Wild Bunch ride again!

What’s in a data centre? The answer must be IBM mainframe boxes of various sorts, mustn’t it? But the truth is that the data centre, since the hay day of the glass house, has always housed an array of hardware from a variety of sources.

Does anyone remember the BUNCH? In the late 1970s, IBM was the top mainframe vendor, followed by: Burroughs, UNIVAC, NCR, Control Data Corporation, and Honeywell. Before my time – during the 1960s – the computer manufacturers had apparently been known as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. That’s IBM, the BUNCH, and two other companies (RCA and General Electric).

The next question is where are they now? General Electric sold its computer business to Honeywell, and RCA sold its to UNIVAC back in the very early 1970s. In 1986 Buroughs bought Sperry – the people who owned UNIVAC – and formed Unisys, which is still with us. AT&T bought NCR in 1991, but brought it back in 1997. The hardware manufacturing part was sold to Solectron in 1998, and NCR is still going – but not making mainframes. Control Data Corporation gradually disappeared and is now part of BT Global Services. Honeywell is still with us, but sold its computer division to Groupe Bull.

That was then, this is now. Who has replaced the (wild) BUNCH? If you walked into a data centre today, whose hardware would you expect to see? IBM is still there. The company recently upgraded its mainframes to the z10. Not only does it have mainframes it also offers Unix boxes (the old RS/6000s) and it has x86 servers for people who want that sort of thing – and, to be brutally honest, that’s everyone except large banks, building societies, airlines, and any other giant corporation. Hewlett-Packard (the company that swallowed Compaq, the company that bought DEC) is a major player. I’m still convinced most of their revenue comes from replacement print cartridges!! HP is keen on virtualization and green strategies in the data centre. Sun is still a major player. The people who brought us Java now offer "instant data centre" with their Project Blackbox – a data centre in a shipping container that can set up your data centre anywhere and be running immediately. Fujitsu Siemens has their Primergy servers using quad-core processors. There’s also Dell, which has partnered with Oracle, EMC, and Intel to produce project MegaGrid, for grid computing. And still with us is Unisys, which now has ES5000 blade servers, and Bull, which is also keen on virtualization.

Other names you may remember are Amdahl – which used to produce mainframes that were said to be better than the IBM equivalents. There was Cray – the supercomputers that were used by the meteorological service to predict the weather and other organizations needing really powerful number crunching. I mentioned DEC briefly above. They were the people who gave us the PDP11 and other great computers.

It will be interesting in 10 years time to see which hardware vendors are still around. Maybe Nokia will be in the data centre! Homework this week is to try to make a word (like bunch) from the initials of HP, Sun, Fujitsu Siemens, Dell, Unisys, and Bull!!

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