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New spec to connect clusters

Microsoft, Intel, and Compaq lead the charge on a new spec to improve the performance of software and computing components in a cluster of systems.

    The results of an effort to improve the performance of software and computing components in a cluster of systems were released today.

    With industry titans Microsoft (MSFT), Intel (INTC), and Compaq Computer (CPQ) leading the charge, the newly released Virtual Interface Architecture (VI Architecture) specification provides an interface for communications between components, such as interconnects, networking cards, switching devices for server systems, and accompanying clustering software applications such as databases. Original plans for the specification were announced in April.

    What does the new specification add? A network administrator now can upgrade interconnect components in their cluster of servers, for example, without having to worry about how the application will respond to the faster hardware.

    Despite the high-powered PC-oriented backing, the specification is operating system, application, and interconnect device independent, according to Mark Wood, a product manager for Microsoft.

    The VI Architecture improves performance between cluster-aware applications, such as Oracle's Parallel Server, and interconnects between server systems or networking devices in a cluster, Wood said. It also provides a set of software interfaces that are independent of the type of interconnect being used in a clustering scenario.

    Clustering, pioneered by Digital Equipment in the 1980s, ties several servers together so that they work together as one. This increases the horsepower of the server and provides reliability benefits--that is, if one server fails, the application will disperse its processes across the remaining servers instead of crashing the entire system.

    Unix-based systems companies are thought to be ahead of their Intel-based counterparts, but lately clustering has caught the attention of the PC world, with a variety of interfaces and software starting to debut, facilitating clustering with Intel machines. Most of the initial releases limit a cluster to a "fail-over" set-up using two machines.

    More than 100 companies from various corners of the industry have signed on in support of the VI Architecture effort. Some of the prominent names include Novell, 3Com, Digital Equipment, Dolphin Interconnect Solutions, and Silicon Graphics.