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NT could gain at corporations

Sequent and Dell demonstrate technology that allows Windows NT servers to be strung together, possibly accelerating the operating system's use at large corporations.

Sequent Computer Systems (SQNT) and Dell (DELL) showed off technology that allows multiple Windows NT servers to be strung together for improved performance and reliability, boosting the prospects for Microsoft's software in high-end corporate computing where Unix has traditionally been strong.

At Oracle's OpenWorld trade show, Sequent demonstrated the ability to connect four NUMA-Q 2000 Windows NT servers, each containing eight processors, using Oracle's Parallel Server clustering technology. Dell also demonstrated a cluster of four-processor servers based on Oracle's clustering technology.

The fact that more computer vendors like Sequent and Dell are running NT on powerful multi-processor servers shows that NT could begin to make gains at corporations as a high-end operating system. Unix has traditionally been the operating system of choice at this level of computing.

The Sequent and Dell demonstrations also indicate that corporate customers are looking for a way to move from Unix to Windows NT. "Our customers are telling us they want an Intel-based architecture and a path to Windows NT in the Data Center," said John McAdam, president and COO of Sequent, in a prepared statement. "Today, on the same NUMA-Q 2000 platform we are currently shipping to our Unix customers, we are previewing some of the capability that will allow our customers to run either Unix, NT or both in one system," he added.

The Sequent servers will link together a total of 32 Pentium Pro microprocessors. Typically, high-end corporate servers using the Windows NT operating system use, at most, four Intel processors.

Dell was demonstrating four servers, each with four processors, in its PowerEdge line of servers. Dell will also announce new servers when Microsoft unveils its Wolfpack clustering technology later this year, a Dell spokesperson said.

Clustering allows servers to be connected and to talk to each other. If one server goes down, another server takes over the work of the first, allowing people to continue using a program even in the event of a server crash. In addition, clustered servers can offer better performance by sharing work more evenly across multiple processors. To date, most databases on Windows NT clusters can run on only one system in the cluster, but Oracle is claiming that its database can be used on clustered systems as well.

The ability to cluster servers is a critical technology for Windows NT server vendors such as Dell, who are looking to sell products to large corporations accustomed to using Unix servers. In these settings, applications have to be up and running continuously and offer around-the-clock access to data.

Sequent is a company that has already had success selling Unix servers based on Intel processors for use in corporate data centers. Increasingly, though, companies are asking for Windows NT servers, so the company also demonstrated a technology at OpenWorld which would allow a system manager to run both Unix and Windows NT on the same server by dividing processing power between the two operating systems. Corporations wanting to buy NT-based systems now would have the ability to develop new applications for NT such as a database that keeps track of customer purchases while continuing to use their Unix-based programs.

"Migrating Unix users to NT would be a good utilization of the technology," says Jerry Sheridan, an analyst with market research firm Dataquest. Customers could run both operating systems and maintain investment in application development and hardware, he says.

In related news, Micron Electronics (MUEI) announced it would offer Oracle relational database software on its servers preinstalled. Oracle's NT database server will be available on Micron's current line of servers by September 23, and on selected Micron NetFrame servers starting in October.