Thomas Miller, CDC vice-president of Central European operations, recently outlined to customers and journalists Control Data’s new vision of the future – the Transparent Computing Environment that has tempted the company from its long-established proprietary ways. The future of computing in the 1990s will be mixed equipment and mixed vendors, said Miller. Customers will work from their desks, accessing everything from a single computer, rather than moving around to specialised, independent hardware for particular jobs. Multi-vendor networking and transparent computing is not new: some of the younger start-ups like Sun Microsystems and Apollo Computer have been pushing the idea for some time, and CDC is not even the first of the old Bunch companies to talk in those terms. But the fact that it is talking shows just how seriously standardisation is now being taken. Starting with its workstation range, CDC has re-vamped its whole range.
Strategic partner Silicon Graphics, which manufactures the high powered RISC-based Iris famiy of workstations using chip technology from MIPS Computer Systems, is described by CDC as a strategic partner, a relationship which was strengthened recently by CDC’s acquisition of a 20% stake in the firm. The Iris workstations are re-badged by CDC with its Cyber logo. We can already see that MegaFlops on the desktop by the 1990s are a real possibility, said Miller. On the supercomputer side, Control Data subsidiary ETA Systems unveiled its ETA10-P and Q range a year ago, claimed to be the only air-cooled system in the Department of Energy’s Class 6 (small supercomputer) classification. Today the systems span a 27:1 operating range, from the ETA 10-P to the $9m, 10.3 GigaFlops ETA 10-G8, well up in Class 7 with Cray Research and NEC. Both the Cyber workstation and ETA supercomputer are new and innovative machines, running Unix. But Control Data is more often associated with its mainframe business, where a substantial number of existing conpanies are tied in to CDC proprietary technology. Despite the growing power and flexibility of desktop workstations, the mainframe will not be going away, said Miller, quoting a report from the US Yankee Research Group, which actually predicts 21% growth in the mainframe market over the next two years. Here the company has added three new models: the Cyber 930, 960 and 990, which support both Unix and the proprietary NOS/VE. Introduced in June, the Cyber 960 is pitched to compete with top-end DEC VAX minis and IBM 3090s. According to Gil Williams, CDC computer systems vice president, the 960 mainframe architecture is one of the most modern available today. No other company can offer the combination of symmetric processing, very large memory, huge disk capacity, input-output options and open systems that the Cyber architecture provides, said Williams. The 960 can include one or two closely coupled central processors, with main memory from 32Mb to 256Mb – though it also features an almost limitless virtual memory capability.
CPUs have a separate input-output unit which operate simultaneously with the CPU for fast direct memory access to large amounts of data in mass storage. System software for the mainframes is centered around the proprietary NOS/VE operating system, although a native Unix implementation is promised for next year. NOS/VE manages the virtual memory and input-output performance of the system, and supports a compatible C compiler to aid the porting of Unix applications onto NOS/VE. In May, CDC released a new version of the system that allows the clustering of up to 16 processors without taking up a lot of room, according to Williams, with file sharing, co-ordinated user services and some degree of fault tolerance. Prices start from $553,000 for a single processor Cyber 962-11, to $1.6m for the top-end dual Cyber 962-32.
What exactly is the Transparent Computing Environment? To start with, it is a long term strategy, and is not a product today, although many of the elements are now in place. There are four main components: seamless use
r interface; multi-vendor connectivity; integrated information management; and cohesive software architecture. As far as the interface is concerned, CDC says it is already providing a consistent interface through its Desktop/VE product, which allows Apple Macintosh users to access and manipulate its NOS/VE operating system through the MAC’s familiar icon-based interface. The central idea goes back to allowing users to control as much as possible from their own computer, and allowing them to remain as far as possible within their own computing environment. CDC also offers consistent interfaces between CAD/CAM software running on workstations and mainframes, and interfaces for MS-DOS micros working with Cyber mainframes. X Window products for diistributed windowing products, are in the pipeline. Multi-vendor connectivity involves the incorporation of Open Systems architecture within the CDCNet networking product, using the ISO/OSI reference model. The company anticipates that a full implementation of OSI within CDCnet will be ready early in 1989, but in the mean time it is hedging its bets with de-facto standards such as TCP/IP and IBM’s Network Job Entry protocols. Integrated information management, the third component of Transparent Computing Environment, is provided either through a family of proprietary products, IM/VE, designed to centralise information resources, and handle the large amounts of data manipulated in mainframe applications, or through the Oracle relational database product.
Multivendor The final component, Cohesive Software Architecture, is the long term development of software building blocks that will allow customers to run the same applications on different computers, both from CDC and other vendors. The four primary building blocks are: standard programming languages – with Fortran, Cobol, Pascal, C and Ada already in place across the CDC range; common operating system services, which will be provided by Unix, currently running native on the workstations and supercomputers, and is promised for the mainframe line by late 1989 – NOS/VE already has a Unix shell: standard communications services, provided in the future by the X Window System: and finally standard data exchange services, such as the IGIS graphics exchange standard, Postscript, mail standards such as X400, and SQL, already available via the Oracle database management system. While Thomas Miller estimates that CDC is only half way through its Transparent Computing Environment programme, the company is already some way towards providing multi-vendor environments for its customers. The Vienna event saw a demonstration of Macintoshes, IBM Personals, Sun and CDC workstations as desktop interface tools to Cyber mainframes such as the 960 and ETA supercomputers. But the capabilities will only really be convincing once they are complete in around two years. It is too early to say that the recovery plan will work, but Control Data is making it clear it is not going down without a fight.