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For servers, eight isn't enough

Powerful servers using eight Intel processors will start showing up at PC Expo this week--but an Intel delay means they'll be demonstration products only.

Powerful servers using eight Intel processors will start showing up at the PC Expo conference in New York this week--but an Intel delay means they'll be demonstration products only, rather than announced models.

IBM, Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard, Dell Computer, and others are expected to preview these systems, the latest part of Intel's effort to bring its mainstream marketing muscle into ever more powerful computers.

IBM will show its eight-ways at the confab, demonstrating a bunch of its servers tied together with its "Cornhusker" clustering technology and running Oracle database software. Intel's quest for an eight-processor server architecture is based on the "Profusion" chipset Intel acquired when it bought Corollary.

Among many other announcements at PC Expo, IBM will also announce a closer tie-up between its data storage products, its Intel servers, and its services division. The announcement concerns the company's storage area network (SAN) products, a collection of networking and storage equipment designed to help companies more easily manage their storage and increase its capacity, a rapidly growing segment of the market.

Workstations, the gussied-up desktop machines used for tasks such as engineering and animation, also will be on display at the conference. IBM will debut new models of its IntelliStation line, and SGI will show its new Visual Workstation 540, which just began shipping June 8.

With the four-processor 540, SGI bucked a trend in the market for workstations based on Windows and Intel chips, which usually are capable of accepting only two processors. SGI believes that four processors are useful in tasks such as rendering complex images.

In the server segment, the Profusion project once again has hit a slight delay, an Intel spokesman confirmed. The chipset was supposed to come out in the second quarter, but now, computer makers won't get them until the third quarter. As a result, they can't start assembling these server systems, which may not make their appearance until late in the third quarter, the spokesman said.

Dell's ship date, for example, used to be summer, but now is "late summer" or even "early fall," a spokesman said. The delay isn't as significant for systems based on lower-end Intel processors, though, because corporate buyers purchasing expensive machines tend to be more cautious than people buying desktop computers.

Hitachi Data Systems is one company that's cheerful about the delay, though. Hitachi licensed the Profusion design before Intel bought Corollary, and as a result Hitachi has been selling systems based on its own Profusion chips for months.

Linux computer maker VA Linux Systems also bases its eight-processor machines on the Hitachi chips.

The Profusion schedule slip also pushes the server rollout closer to the arrival of Windows 2000, its operating system for businesses, which Microsoft has been beta testing for months. The new version is more stable, doesn't have to be turned off as much for configuration changes, and can take better advantage of multiple processors, Microsoft said.

Back in the middle of 1997, these systems had been slated for the end of 1998. At last year's PC Expo, executives from Compaq said that Profusion-based eight-way servers would possibly be ready by the end of 1998, but more likely come out in the first part of 1999. Since that time, however, Intel has delayed the project to conduct more tests. In the middle of 1998, Intel found bugs in a four-way chipset which caused four-way Xeon servers to be delayed.

Although the system makers will not get silicon for sale until the third quarter, the companies should be able to insert these in products fairly rapidly, according to an Intel spokesman. These companies, after all, have had test modules of Profusion for a months, many of them deployed at customer sites.

The delay might mean the eight-ways will use a later, faster CPU, industry sources said. Companies will be able to build systems on the 550-MHz Xeon chip from Intel.