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Intel & Partners Show Off Unix-Class Servers.

By Timothy Prickett Morgan

At PC Expo a few weeks ago, everyone got their first good look at the much-ballyhooed eight-way Pentium III servers that Intel and its server partners expect to start shipping at the end of the summer. IBM Corp, Compaq Computer Corp, Hewlett-Packard Co and Data General Corp were all showing off forthcoming machines at the event, all using the Profusion 8-way chipset, adopted from technology that Intel acquired when it purchased Corollary Inc two years ago.

Profusion essentially allows two four-way Intel Pentium III Xeon motherboards to sit side-by-side in a dual system bus configuration and link to each other through Level 2 caches. This is more or less how various Unix and proprietary servers have expanded from four-way to eight-way and in some cases twelve-way servers over the past few years. While most of the excitement surrounding the Profusion chipset and its related server lines seems to be concentrated on what these machines will do to prop up the credibility of Windows NT in the enterprise (aside from running network file and print serving, which is NT's current mainstay), the new eight-way boxes will also go a long way to making midrange Unix solutions more affordable.

With the Profusion chipset delayed yet again, this time until August or September depending on who you ask, this gives the major Unix-on-Intel player, SCO, as well as its server partners Compaq, IBM and HP time to figure out where Profusion servers fit into their marketing plans and product lines.

Compaq Thunder and Lightning

Compaq Computer Corp, the biggest peddler of SCO OpenServer and UnixWare as well as the world's largest PC server vendor, has been talking about its Thunder and Lightning Profusion boxes since earlier in the year, but last month divulged a little more performance and technical information on its Profusion boxes, which will be sold under the ProLiant 8000 and ProLiant 8500 monikers. Based on the initial tests performed by Compaq, the Profusion eight-way servers do a considerably better job of scaling than the Axil Computer (now defunct) design used in the current HP NetServer server line.

According to Compaq's initial tests, the Profusion chipset tested in beta servers offers about 10 percent better performance (based on SAP R/3 tests running on NT 4.0 and SQL Server) than current ProLiant 7000 boxes in four-way configurations. On that test, the Profusion server has a 3.6 SMP ratio, compared to a 3.3 SMP ratio for the 7000 server. A six-way Profusion box had an SMP ratio of about 4.9 on the SAP test, and an eight-way box had an SMP ratio of about 5.7. This compares rather favorably to Unix-based SMP servers. For example, an RS/6000 Blackbird S7A server from IBM has an SMP ratio of about 3.2 in a four-way configuration and 5.6 in an eight-way configuration (these numbers are derived from IBM's relative performance ratings, which are based on a modified TPC-C benchmark). The Blackbird is not available in six-way setups, but a twelve-way model has an impressive 7.7 SMP ratio, one of the best in the business and one that will probably be out of Intel's reach until next year. (Of course, by then, IBM will have 24-way RS/6000 servers, and HP and Sun will have long since been above the 32-way mark). Compaq's other tests on the Profusion servers show SMP ratios somewhat lower on the Ziff- Davis ServerBench test and considerably higher on the SPECint_ra te95 test.

IBM Netfinity

IBM's forthcoming Netfinity 8500R Profusion servers will come with dual processor buses and four 64-bit PCI buses. Customers will be able to choose Pentium III Xeon processors with 512Kb, 1Mb or 2Mb L2 cache memories and up to 16Gb of main memory. IBM, like Compaq, didn't talk about prices for its Profusion servers, but is emphasizing that the future machines will be able to take advantage of the Cornhusker extensions to Microsoft Cluster Services, which allow up to eight Netfinity servers to be clustered together for load balancing and for high availability clustering; Cornhusker was announced last week under the name Netfinity Availability Extensions for MSCS.

IBM also announced a similar set of programs for Oracle Parallel Server setups that allow eight-node Netfinity configurations to share work much as current RS/6000 SP parallel servers have been able to do for years. IBM plans to extend these cluster services from 8-way to 16-way clusters by year end, at which time it will also offer its RS/6000 high-performance SP switch as an interconnect rather than the Fast Ethernet it is offering now. IBM will also allow Netfinities and RS/6000s to share resources across clusters, although the exact nature and extent of that resource sharing is still unknown.

HP NetServer

Hewlett-Packard says that its NetServer LXr 8500 Profusion box will be available in late summer as well, and will have 32Gb of main memory available by mid-winter. (Presumably HP's competitors will have 32Gb available as well by about then.) The LXr 8500 will have essentially the same fault tolerant and hot swapping features that IBM and Compaq are promising. HP says that a base machine with one 550MHz Pentium III Xeon processor, 1Mb of L2 cache and 256Mb of main memory will cost $23,600. An LXr 8500 with one processor, 2Mb of cache and 256Mb of memory will sell for $26,300.

Data General Aviion

For the moment, Data General seems content that its current line of DG/UX servers are competitive with other Unix alternatives and its own and others' Windows NT servers. The Aviion Unix server line at DG includes the four-way Pentium III AV 3700 and AV 3700R departmental servers as well as the AV 25000, a 32-way Pentium III NUMA cluster server that can run either DG/UX or DG/UX with Windows NT partitions (64-way configurations of the AV 25000 are expected during the second half of the year). The AV 25000s have 2Gb of L2 cache per processor, 64Gb of main memory and up to 100Tb of disk capacity, considerably more scalability than will be available with Profusion boxes from DG or anyone else for that matter.

Prices for the AV 25000s range from under $80,000 for a four-way machine with 512Mb of memory to $512,000 for a 16-way box with 2Gb of memory to $3.2 million for a 64-way server with 8Gb of memory and 1Tb of disk. NT partitions for the AV 25000 cost around $17,000 per four-way partition. The company's AV 8900 Profusion server, announced last week, will run Windows NT only (although there probably is no practical reason why it couldn't run SCO UnixWare, like other DG servers can). The DG Profusion box will come with two to eight processors, 2Gb of L2 cache per processor, up to 16Gb of memory and a base street price in the $20,000 range.

Hitachi VisionBase

Meanwhile, Hitachi is making hay from Intel's delay. It claims to have sold more than 200 of its VisionBase 8880R eight-ways since they began shipping in the US a few weeks ago. They have been available in Japan since last October. Hitachi took a license to the Corollary work before that company was bought by Intel and has done its own Profusion implementation. Hitachi has brought some of its mainframe clustering and systems management services technology over to the 8880R, but isn't extending Microsoft Cluster Server beyond support for two nodes like IBM is doing with Cornhusker. Sun Solaris and SCO UnixWare are certified on all Hitachi Intel servers and VA Research is poised to begin reselling 8880Rs fitted with its Linux distribution.
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Publication:Computergram International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 6, 1999
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