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IBM to debut powerful Windows servers

IBM will debut powerful Intel-based servers later this month designed to bring this line closer to Unix servers in performance and reliability.

IBM will debut powerful Windows-Intel servers later this month designed to bring this line closer to Unix servers in performance and reliability.

The machines, which can use eight processors, offer roughly a doubling of the horsepower currently available in mainstream Intel-based servers. And coupled with a new version of Microsoft Windows, the servers mark a new stage in bringing mass-market Intel technology to the Unix market, known for delivering hardy, fast systems.

Similar machines will also be sold by Compaq Computer, Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard, and others.

IBM will show its Netfinity 8500R with eight Pentium III Xeon processors at the PC Expo conference on June 21, said Jim Gargin, director of product marketing for the Netfinity line. The server itself will be for sale in the third quarter for prices starting in the low $20,000 range, he said.

IBM has been trying to raise the profile of its Windows-Intel Netfinity line of servers by plucking mature technologies from its more established Unix and mainframe platforms.

However, some analysts still maintain that Microsoft Windows NT isn't ready to push over Unix in the marketplace yet. Unix can support more processors per machine and larger "clusters" of servers.

"[Windows] NT 4 is floundering. It's not gaining market share, it's not losing market share," said Dataquest analyst Kimball Brown. Though he added that Windows 2000 "is going to help it a lot. We expect an explosion of new applications next year."

Still, Windows 2000 likely will raise the operating system from its current state of a "reasonably good low-end server environment" only to a "midrange" one, Brown added.

With the arrival of Windows 2000--the first versions of which Microsoft plans to release in the closing months of 1999--eight-processor Intel machines are likely to enter volume manufacturing.

The eight-processor systems will appeal to companies looking to simplify the swarms of NT servers that have propagated across large companies, said Brian Sanders, Netfinity software marketing manager. IBM also believes they'll be a popular way to house Oracle and IBM database software.

A "Profusion" of high-end technology
IBM also will announce other high-end features for the servers, including the "Cornhusker" technology that allows as many as eight Windows NT servers to share processing tasks and back each other up, Gargin said.

In addition, IBM will announce the high-speed "SP switch" for Netfinity machines, a technology snatched from IBM's RS/6000 Unix server division. The switch is part of IBM's "X Architecture" plan to try to beef up Netfinity servers with IBM technology from higher-end server and mainframe computers.

The SP switch, which can transfer data at the rate of 2.4 gigabytes per second, is the foundation for IBM's RS/6000 supercomputers such as Blue Pacific at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. A high transfer rate is necessary to keep all the different computers in such a system fed with data.

The SP switch initially will be able to support groups--or so-called clusters--of as many as 14 Netfinity machines, Gargin said, though Netfinity still supports only eight machines with Windows NT. For tying together more Intel servers, IBM is using Linux and other Unix operating systems, Sanders said.

"We're launching an all-out attack on the high end," Gargin said.

IBM's eight-way Cornhusker system is based on the Profusion chipset developed by Corollary, a company Intel acquired. Part of the Profusion package is a communications chip developed by Compaq.

Hitachi Data Systems licensed this chipset technology before Intel bought Corollary, and Hitachi is making its own chips. Its eight-processor servers already are shipping. Linux computer maker VA Linux Systems sells an eight-processor system based on the Hitachi design, Hitachi has said. VA is working on tinkering with Linux to make sure the Unix-like operating system will work on Profusion machines.

IBM also will debut a new circuit board that improves the capabilities of large arrays of disk drives and products based on high-speed Fibre Channel technology for setting up networks of storage devices, Gargin said.