The Word on Profusion: It Won’t Be Long

Expected in late 1998 and then again in early 1999, Intel’s Profusion architecture has been a notable MIA in the enterprise computing landscape.

The Profusion eight-way SMP architecture from Intel Corp. may be just around the corner.

Expected in late 1998 and then again in early 1999, Intel’s Profusion architecture has been a notable MIA in the enterprise computing landscape. Intel acquired the rights to the Profusion technology when it purchased specialty-chipset vendor Corollary Inc. (www.corollary.com) in October 1997. Intel was expected to produce a specialty-enabling chipset for eight-way shortly thereafter, but Profusion was delayed throughout the first half of 1998. Intel remained mum on the status of Profusion for much of the second half of 1998.

In early January, John Miner, vice president and general manager of Intel’s enterprise server group, finally announced Profusion will probably debut in the second quarter of 1999, with earlier arrival possible. The comment was made during a teleconference announcing the availability of new 2 MB cache Xeon 450-MHz processors.

"We will offer eight-way systems optimized for four-way processing and headroom for expansion, and we will offer systems optimized for eight processors," Miner said, noting that Profusion is in the final validation phase prior to shipping.

Profusion’s arrival will present IT managers with a dilemma: Should they go with eight-way servers right away with Windows NT 4.0 or rely on the ever-faster four-way processors until Windows 2000 comes out with performance enhancements that will improve NT’s SMP scalability above four processors?

Neil McDonald, vice president and research director with the market research firm GartnerGroup (www.gartner.com), sums up concerns about going above four-way on NT 4.0. "Additional processors give you additional power, but it’s certainly not [a] linear [progression, in terms of scalability]," he says.

Performance of four-way Xeon-based servers has been improving steadily on Windows NT. The first crop of quad-processor Xeon servers easily surpassed the performance of the industry’s best Pentium Pro-based eight-way box, the NetServer LXr Pro 8 from Hewlett-Packard Co. Preliminary benchmark reports from the Transaction Processing Performance Council (TPC, www.tpc.org) indicate that quad-processor servers built around new 2 MB cache versions of Intel’s 450-MHz Xeon processor may offer a 30 percent improvement over the performance of the best of the eight-way Pentium Pro-based servers.

PC server vendors will want to sell eight-ways to Windows NT 4.0 shops. They are gearing up for the anticipated Profusion release and are listing several benefits to deploying eight-ways in advance of Windows 2000. "If you’re hitting the wall with your ability to add users or applications or transactions, then an eight-way box is a great buy," says Bryan Cox, HP product manager for future NetServer systems.

In early January, Compaq Computer Corp. unveiled its ProLiant 7000, a PC server that can ship with up to four 450-MHz Xeon processors. Compaq officials say the server will be capable of supporting an eight-way design presumably based on the Profusion architecture. Paul Sandler, segment director for enterprise x86 servers with Compaq, says eight-way Xeon-based servers will pay scalability dividends even on Windows NT 4.0. "We’re actually getting very good scalability with the Enterprise Edition of NT 4.0, and most people are saying that you have to wait for NT 5.0 [Windows 2000] to get scalability," Sandler says. "People are saying this because ... the older architectures ... didn’t scale because people didn’t tune the I/O architectures or only did a moderate amount of work on the memory subsystem." Compaq helped engineer the I/O subsystem in Profusion as part of a 1997 agreement with Corollary.