Eight-Way Machines Announced; Shipments Still Delayed

NEW YORK -- After several delays, eight-way Intel servers built using Intel’s Corollary technology and Xeon processors may be finally getting close to becoming available.

Data General Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp. have all formally unveiled their eight-way Xeon servers. The new launches follow Unisys Corp.’s February announcement of its eight-way Aquanta ES5085R system, Compaq Computer Corp.’s March announcement of eight-way systems under their respective code names, Thunder and Lightning, and a Networld+Interop technology demonstration of a Dell Computer Corp. eight-way system.

Eight-way systems were originally expected to debut by the end of 1998, about 6 months after the launch of Intel Corp.’s Xeon processor. But delays in the development of the Corollary Profusion SMP chip set stalled development and shipments. Compaq, Data General, HP, IBM and Unisys now project shipments will begin sometime in late summer. Dell officials say not to expect a formal announcement of systems or ship dates until that time. The only eight-way Xeon system currently shipping is from Hitachi Data Systems, which is built using a version of the Corollary SMP technology fabricated by Hitachi under license from Intel.

HP’s NetServer LXr 8500 replaces older HP eight-way models built on Pentium Pro technology using an interconnect technology licensed from now-defunct Axil Computer Corp. With the new systems, HP, like nearly every other Windows NT server vendor, is now using Intel-supplied SMP technology in its system. For IBM, the announcement of its Netfinity 8500R system marks its first entry into the eight-way Intel system arena. Data General, also a former Axil Computer partner, uses the Profusion SMP technology in its new AV 8900.

Where product differentiation used to be greatest at the hardware level, the new eight-way systems are adding differentiation at the system and software level. HP’s systems will include a suite of management tools including a so-called "one-button disaster recovery" utility, a new memory scrubbing tool that proactively scans ECC memory for single-bit errors and fixes those errors before possible use and new self-monitoring system technology borrowed from the HP 9000 line. The system also has the capability to automatically recover from a hardware failure through a bypass of the failed component, followed by a reboot that reconfigures the system to run without the failed device.

HP also extended its availability programs to include an observatory scheme where HP experts will remotely monitor a customer’s machine and advise onsite IT professionals about possible problems. This program is primarily focused on the hardware and operating system issues; HP says it will extend the program to BackOffice products on request.

IBM’s Netfinity launch was accompanied by the formal launch of its Netfinity Availability Extensions for MSCS, the eight-machine clustering extensions for Microsoft’s Cluster Server product. This product, better known by its code-name "Cornhusker," was previewed extensively at the Microsoft TechEd conference last month. IBM also features self-diagnostics and hot-swap/hot-add PCI slots, a version of its high-performance parallel interconnect technology -- optimized for Microsoft Cluster Server environments -- called the Netfinity SP Switch. Data General also features hot-plug PCI slots and remote diagnostics.

Performance on pre-Xeon eight-way systems was disappointing, with most machines demonstrating a performance gain of 30 to 50 percent over four-way machines in TPC-C benchmark tests -- although they had double the number of processors. HP says TPC results for the LXr 8500 currently under audit will illustrate performance equal to that of eight-way Unix systems at a far lower price point. Unisys already has TPC numbers posted that show performance of 37,757 tpmC at a cost of $23.18 per tpmC. By comparison, most non-clustered 4-way Xeon/NT systems have produced up to 25,000 tpmC. An IBM representative says the Netfinity eight-way system will show a performance boost of about 1.7 times higher than four-way systems.

HP currently has several pre-release machines in customer sites for evaluation testing. One is located at Nordson Corp., a $660 million manufacturer of industrial equipment based in Westlake, Ohio.

Although HP’s launch emphasized the theme of server consolidation, Kevin Beattie, director of corporate information services at Nordson, is more enthusiastic about the system’s scalability. Currently moving to SAP R/3 from a proprietary application on an IBM mainframe, Beattie says, "Scalability, then price/performance [are] the first things that attracted us."

Beattie’s team is currently building a 3-tier R/3 environment. The NetServer LXr 8500 has taken on the database server role, while numerous smaller NetServer machines are application servers. He plans to add a second LXr 8500 to back up the first -- using Microsoft’s Cluster Server -- to ensure availability of the database server function. While the R/3 conversion is still in progress, he expects to throw the switch and go live during the first quarter of 2000. -- Al Gillen

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.