Eight-Way Xeons Prove NT Scales to Eight Processors

The scalability battle between Microsoft Corp. and its major server hardware vendors appears to be drawing to a close with the release of eight-way, Xeon-based servers.

The scalability battle between Microsoft Corp. and its major server hardware vendors appears to be drawing to a close with the release of eight-way, Xeon-based servers.

Microsoft has maintained that Windows NT 4.0 will scale to eight processors, but needs a powerful enough system to do so. Hardware vendors have disagreed, claiming the operating system isn’t powerful enough to reap the rewards of eight-way processing.

With the launch of its first two eight-way servers, however, Compaq Computer Corp. is claiming Windows NT scales to eight processors, and scales quite well at that.

"Eight-way Xeon-based servers prove that NT can scale past four processors, it just never had the architecture underneath it to scale to eight processors," says Tim Golden, director, enterprise server product marketing, at Compaq. "We got nearly linear scalability with TPC benchmarks, which is considerably better than PII [Pentium II] scalability. The fastest that our four-way Xeon systems got was about 22,000 tpmCs, and eight-way Xeons get in excess of 37,000 tpmCs."

Golden also claims that running benchmarks on SAP, Oracle8 and a series of other applications demonstrate Windows NT’s scalability as successfully as the TPC benchmarks.

"NT 4.0 can scale, and the story will only get better when Windows 2000 ships," Golden says.

As expected, Microsoft’s reaction to this news is positive. "We’ve been following the progress of these vendors and the hardware configurations are really allowing NT 4.0 to shine. We’re really encouraged by this," says Michel Gambier, Windows NT Server marketing manager at Microsoft.

Gambier attributes this scalability to the enhanced architecture of the new systems, without taking away from Windows NT itself.

"NT 4.0 is NT 4.0, it was designed to get good results up to eight-way processing," Gambier says.

Based in part on the unsuccessful previous rounds of eight-way servers that came to market, common industry wisdom held that Windows NT had problems scaling beyond four processors. Scalability results were so disappointing, in fact, that Compaq never brought an eight-way Pentium II box to market. Golden maintains that Compaq was waiting for hardware powerful enough to take advantage of Windows NT’s scalability.

Despite the widespread industry perception that Windows NT had scaling deficiencies, industry analysts are not surprised at Compaq’s results.

"Microsoft has been further ahead in scalability and clustering than most people thought," says Laura DiDio, industry analyst, operating systems, at Giga Information Group (www.gigaweb.com), a market research firm.

In addition to expanding the power of Windows NT, Compaq’s Golden says these new machines are ready for the realm of Unix and NetWare. He explains that Compaq customers will be able to choose from those operating systems as well as Windows NT.

"We are locked and loaded with all of our major partners for SCO, Linux and Novell," he says.

The eight-way servers, code-named Thunder and Lightning, are based on Intel Corp.’s profusion architecture, which enables eight-way processing by connecting two four-way chipsets together. Lightning, the next generation of the ProLiant 6500 series, is a dense rack-mountable system. For size reasons, this server is designed primarily to support external storage. Thunder is the evolution of the ProLiant 7000 and can be configured as a tower or rack-mountable system.

Among the new features shipping with the servers are a 133-MHz I/O bus, up to 32 GB SDRAM, hot plug disk drives, redundant power supplies, redundant processors, redundant power modules and two power ports.

The machines also have Level 3 cache, 100 MHz main memory and processor buses, and hot plug 64-bit 66-MHz PCI slots, which provide twice the bandwidth of today’s servers.

Eight-way, Xeon-based servers are expected to ship this June from major hardware vendors, such as Compaq, IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Computer Corp., Unisys Inc. and Hitachi PC Corp.

"The real beauty of these eight-ways is that we plan to release them at nearly the same price point as our four-ways of today," Golden says.