Tech Industry

New era dawns for Intel servers

Forthcoming systems from IBM, HP and Compaq exploit new technologies that should help them compete better against traditional Unix server designs.

Intel servers are getting nearly as brawny as their Unix server cousins as the chip giant attempts to elbow its way into the high-end market.

IBM next year will launch a new server that can accommodate as many as 16 Intel CPUs, said Tom Bradicich, director of architecture and technology for IBM's Netfinity line of Intel servers. Hewlett-Packard yesterday announced a partnership to sell a competing 16- and 32-CPU design from Unisys and will bring Intel CPUs to its own top-end 64-processor server design in the second half of 2002, said Duane Zitzner, head of HP's computer systems group.

Compaq Computer, meanwhile, is working on a chip set that will enable 16- and 32-CPU Intel servers using Intel's second-generation 64-bit McKinley chips in early 2002, said Mary McDowell, general manager of Compaq's industry-standard server division.

The new systems are at the beginning of a new era for Intel servers, which are benefiting from a host of new technologies that should help them compete better against traditional Unix server designs from Sun Microsystems, HP, Compaq and others. Until now, Intel servers generally have not been able to crack into the high-end market for tasks such as housing huge databases.

One of those new components is Windows 2000 Datacenter, the first version of Windows that can run on systems with 32 processors. Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer unveiled Datacenter yesterday in San Francisco, but the new operating system is not expected to grow much beyond test usage for months.

Intel, expanding from its tight alliance with Microsoft, also has been pushing Linux and IBM's AIX 5L, formerly known as by its project name, Monterey.

Meanwhile, Sun is busy with its own server revamp, selling its first servers based on the UltraSparc III chip today.


Meta Group says Microsoft's development of Windows 2000 Datacenter is in part triggering IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Compaq to all announce plans to market 16- and 32-processor Intel-based servers.

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Until Compaq comes up with its own design, it will offer the 32-processor Unisys ES7000, the company announced earlier this year. McDowell said Compaq shipments will begin next week. HP will start selling the ES7000 at the start of next year, Zitzner said.

Both the HP and IBM designs accommodate not only today's 32-bit Intel processors but also next year's 64-bit Itanium chips from Intel, Bradicich and Zitzner said. Large databases--and thus corporate customers--demand the use of 64-bit chips to run large databases.

The new IBM system is based on a new chip set, code-named Summit, Bradicich said. The first Summit-based servers will be released in 2001 along with Foster, the server version of the upcoming Pentium 4, and a later version will arrive with McKinley, the successor to the 64-bit Itanium chip due in 2002.

HP, meanwhile, won't rely on Unisys forever for its high-end Intel systems. The new 64-processor Superdome Unix server will be able to use upcoming 64-bit Intel chips in the second half of 2002, HP has said.

Intel and HP co-developed the much-delayed IA-64 chip line, and HP has been moving gradually to transfer its servers to the new chip architecture. Superdome currently uses HP's PA-RISC chips.

The IBM design consists of as many as four processor "quads," each with four processors, its own memory and input-output abilities. The quads can communicate over a high-speed "scalability port," a technology that came from IBM's 1999 acquisition of Sequent.

The IBM design will incorporate a number of higher-end features as well, Bradicich said, including the ability to swap out memory modules without shutting the server off, a first for Intel servers.

The architecture works up to 16-CPU systems, but IBM also plans to sell it in smaller systems with four, eight or 12 processors.

In a four-way configuration, IBM hopes to squeeze the chips into a rack-mounted server just 1.75 inches thick--a difficult engineering accomplishment given the heat that chips generate.

Compaq also is working on a chipset that will enable eight-processor Foster systems, McDowell said.