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Eight-way servers on tap

Compaq's ProLiant lines support "hot plug" technology, which allows users to swap out network cards without bringing a server down.

Four- and eight-way servers, along with "hot plug" technology that allow users to swap out network cards and other components without turning a server off, are the foundation of Compaq Computer's (CPQ) efforts to get into the enterprise-class server market.

Invoking the name of Sun Microsystems whenever possible, Compaq executives said today at a San Francisco presentation that the Houston-based PC company will rely on design innovation to become one of the chief providers of computers that control large, multinode networks. Sun has thrived in this market for years.

"This is a wake-up call for anyone that thinks servers based on the Intel platform are behind Unix," said John Rose, senior vice president and group general manager, enterprise computing group, at Compaq.

Sun, meanwhile, is invoking the name of Compaq in the rollout of a new line of Enterprise 450 server, which also takes place this week.

As part of its effort, Compaq today unveiled the ProLiant 7000 and 6500. Both servers support up to four Pentium Pro processors containing 1MB of cache each, and support PCI Hot Plug technology. The 7000 starts for around $17,000 while the 6500 will hit the market at a base price of $14,735.

By mid-1998, the company will unveil a server with eight 32-bit Intel processors, said Karl Walker, technology development, enterprise computing group at Compaq. The chassis for the ProLiant, in fact, has been designed to accommodate an eight-way configuration, which should make upgrading to an eight-way server fairly easy.

By doubling the number of processors, a computer maker can provide vastly more amounts of computing power to users. Right now, few corporate users or applications that can take advantage of eight-way systems, Walker said, but the need is coming.

Most likely, Compaq will use a dual-motherboard approach to make its eight-way server, said Dean McCarron, a principal at Mercury Research. Standard server design can only make use of the Pentium Pro, while the upcoming Deschutes version of the Pentium II chip operates in clusters consisting of four or fewer processors.

Both the ProLiant 7000 and 6500 support PCI Hot Plug Technology, which allows administrators to fix back-end servers while they run. The technology is critical, according to Compaq, because enterprise-class servers can typically not be shut down.

In an effort to make the technology a standard, Compaq reiterated its commitment to licensing PCI Hot Plug technology so that other Windows vendors adopt it.

So far, Compaq has licensed the technology to Intel and an as-yet unnamed motherboard foundry, said Mary McDowell, vice president, server marketing. Intel will incorporate hot plug into its own server motherboard, she said, while the foundry will incorporate the technology into motherboards brought to it from other computer vendors.