Compaq will be among the first PC manufacturers to push the boundaries of server technology to eight-processor symmetric multi-processing (SMP), paving the way for high-performance NT servers.
Compaq is understood to be in discussions to license Corollary's Profusion chip- and board-based technology, which was introduced in August. Profusion extends the capabilities of the Intel four-way Pentium Pro design to a maximum of eight processors, by integrating three Pentium Pro buses and two main memory subsystems. Corollary said its Profusion architecture gives processors and I/O devices independent, high-speed access to shared, interleaved system memory.
Compaq confirmed it was "investigating" eight-way processing, making it the first time the company has discussed server technology beyond two- and four-processor SMP. A spokesman for the company said: "At this point our direction is still clusters of four-way servers, but we are investigating eight-way technology broadly in the industry."
Eight-processor SMP servers from Compaq could ship as early as mid-1997.
They will almost certainly be targeted at the NT Server market, which has been hindered by both a lack of suitable hardware and NT's inherent scalability problems.
Today, shrink-wrapped NT Server is optimised for quad-processor SMP architectures.
Companies like Sequent offer versions of the operating system capable of supporting machines with 32-processor or more but these are too expensive for the mass market.
IDC analyst Lynda Fitzpatrick believes it will be some time before eight-way machines become available. "Part of Compaq's strategy is to push into the mid-range. But it will have to do a lot of work with NT to make it scale past four-way SMP," she said.
Mark Hassall, back office product marketing manager at Microsoft, was encouraged by news of eight-way SMP architectures: "Any hardware system that will enable users to get the most out of symmetric multi-processing has to be a good thing for NT users."
He predicted that eight-way SMP will enable NT servers running standard Intel architectures to be deployed in application areas that require greater performance and scalability.
Both Microsoft and hardware companies are now actively pushing the boundaries of NT's scalability. Multi-processing SMP systems have traditionally been the domain of high-end Unix servers. With PC companies such as Compaq preparing to muscle-in on this market, it spells difficult times ahead for Unix.
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