Compaq has picked Digital's Alpha processor over Intel's forthcoming Merced technology to power its Tandem Himalaya high end server range, further securing Alpha's future.
The company had described the choice between Alpha and Intel as a "difficult decision", admitting that there were some political issues to consider.
The Himalaya servers, used mostly by banks and stock exchanges for continuous computing operations, currently use Mips processors from Mips Technologies, recently spun off from Silicon Graphics.
After the next two iterations of that processor technology, it will be replaced with Alpha, from Compaq's subsidiary Digital Equipment. The decision is further evidence of Compaq's wholehearted backing of the processor - something far less evident when the Digital takeover was first announced and Merced was still on timetable.
"In the world of 64-bit computing Alpha gives us a two-year window of opportunity," said John Rose, head of enterprise computing at Compaq.
The version of Digital Unix being developed for Merced will be code compatible with that for Alpha, said Rose, and use the same data types. Version 5.0 of Windows NT will also run on both platforms, when it eventually emerges.
Last week, Compaq announced that it was licensing its Non Stop Kernel technology to Microsoft to incorporate into Windows NT to improve its limited ability to scale beyond the departmental level. This would benefit the market for NT on Alpha.
"We want to get high availability NT ready sooner than Microsoft would have done, left to its own devices," said Jesse Lipcon, Unix systems vice president at Compaq.
He insists that Alpha, compared to Merced, will have 1.5 to two times the performance for around half the cost of production.
Despite this, Alpha is likely to remain a price premium product. Compaq refuses to promise a cost dividend for customers, Rose noting that cost is not the same as pricing and Intel has yet to announce pricing for Merced. Alpha servers will remain the high end offering.
Differences still remain between the outlooks of the merging companies on Alpha. Rose insists that Merced will be the key technology to customers - Lipcon admits that customers will make the choice but that Alpha will still make the best systems.
Still, despite some confusion over its long term role, for now it is considered a gem. The company says Alpha will appear in some "new categories" and it wants to drive the volume, particularly as it has Samsung as an alternate or additional supplier to Intel.
The Korean conglomerate is working with partner companies to develop more advanced symmetric multiprocessing boards for Alpha, for example.
The roadmap remains unchanged under Compaq, with a similar level of R&D resources. The EV67 is due this autumn, the EV68, produced at 0.25 micron, one year after.
The EV7 will follow in 2000 with the EV8 coming in shortly after Merced in 2001. These later generation chips will break the 1,000MHz performance barrier.
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