Profusion to Take Wintel Higher in the Enterprise

With the delivery of Intel Corp.’s eight-way Profusion chipset, the Windows NT operating system on processors from Intel crossed a threshold in its development into an enterprise-class platform.

With the delivery of Intel Corp.’s eight-way Profusion chipset, the Windows NT operating system on processors from Intel crossed a threshold in its development into an enterprise-class platform.

The late August delivery of the long-awaited, eight-way board is a step that begins to bring the platform into the RISC-Unix scalability realm. Upcoming milestones include the delivery of Windows 2000, then Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, then 64-bit Windows 2000 coupled with Intel’s release of its 64-bit Merced processor.

According to Pat Patla, Dell Computer Corp.’s brand manager for the PowerEdge 8450, the chipset’s delay of more than five months was due to problems with its larger memory, faster backplanes and faster memory.

Jonathan Eunice, industry analyst and IT advisor at Illuminata Inc. (, says building Profusion was a difficult task.

"Multiprocessor designs, whether at the hardware or software level, take an awful lot of engineering. As the level of scale and capacity goes up, engineering becomes more difficult," he says.

Now that Profusion is out the door, Intel and its OEMs claim that the new machines will improve performance enough to make the Wintel duopoly competitive with RISC-based systems.

Several OEMs have demonstrated benchmarks that show as much as 1.5 times the scalability of existing four-way Intel-based platforms.

Compaq Computer Corp., for one, released Transaction Processing Council ( TPC-C benchmarks at more than 40,000 transactions per minute. Unisys Corp. previously announced 37,000 transactions per minute.

At press time, Dell had yet to make its benchmark results public, but Patla was optimistic on how the systems will fare. "We expect to go from today’s 23,000 tpmC to 38,000 or 40,000 tpmC," he says.

Analysts say Profusion-based servers break x86 processors into the bottom of the RISC space.

"Profusion-based servers may replace RISC systems at the low-end, but not across the board," says James Gruener, managing director of Windows 2000 platforms at market research firm the Aberdeen Group (

Gruener says eight-way systems perform really well with Windows NT 4.0, but it will take Windows 2000 to fully reap the processing rewards.

"There clearly will be a drastic performance increase with Windows 2000, including higher benchmarking results," he says.

As of now, though, neither analysts nor vendors will offer estimates of benchmark results with Windows 2000 because the software is still in beta.

Without waiting for the final version of Windows 2000 to ship, hardware vendors plan to target new markets with eight-way servers running Windows NT 4.0, such as enterprise-class data centers, ISPs and ASPs.

Analysts and vendors agree that Profusion-based servers will earn a place in storage area networks and system area networks, as well.

"The engines currently driving SANs are four-way Xeons," Dell’s Patla says. "But customers are calling for more power in SANs."

Additionally, because these servers are capable of handling more users, IT departments will be able to standardize on a smaller number of machines for tasks such as database consolidation, housing large databases, Web hosting and as e-commerce engines.

Aberdeen’s Gruener cautions that companies that plan to consolidate their networks down to a small number of eight-way servers should be careful. If their systems are used for mission-critical business applications -- and for more users -- customers should consider the standpoint of what they can do to maintain high-availability when consolidating systems.

Patla expects many companies will purchase eight-way machines preloaded with Windows NT 4.0, with a plan to upgrade to Windows 2000 when the software matures.

"Eight-way boxes are very powerful, but the thing people forget is that there is more to it than just putting a box out there," Gruener says.

The operating system, be it a flavor of Windows or Unix, has to be tuned for the hardware, as do the applications that run on the platform.

To take full advantage of all the power of eight-way machines, customers need to make sure they are running applications on them that are designed for eight-way processing. For instance, it is highly unlikely that many companies will use an eight-way box for file and print serving.

Servers based on the Profusion chipset are gaining industry support from operating systems other than Windows. The systems will run Linux, NetWare, Solaris and UnixWare.

Illuminta’s Eunice and Aberdeen’s Gruener expect a significant percentage of the machines to ship with Unix variants. Although Windows NT/2000 will dominate shipments, more Unix-on-Intel systems will ship than in the past.

Intel Corp. finally breathed life into Dell Computer Corp.’s PowerEdge 8450 and other vendors’ eight-way systems that had been awaiting the Profusion chipset. See chart on page 3 for details on this class of systems.

Hitachi Unveils 2nd-Generation Profusion 8-Way

Hitachi Data Systems ( co-opted Intel Corp.’s launch date for its 8-way Profusion chipset to unveil a second-generation server based on Hitachi’s own version of the board.

Hitachi’s second iteration, the VisionBase 8890R, hits the market this month, about the same time other Intel-based PC server vendors including Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp. deliver their first Profusion-based 8-way systems.

Leveraging a relationship with Profusion chipset designer Corollary Inc. that predated Intel’s 1997 acquisition of Corollary, Hitachi goosed its own silicon into production fast enough to begin shipping its Profusion-based 8-way, called the VisionBase 8880R, in January.

Michael Krieger, vice president of Windows NT Server marketing at Hitachi, says the nine month lead has let the company refine its server based on customer feedback and has provided a marketing advantage.

"It’s given us a year to create awareness that we’re in this marketplace," Krieger says. Hitachi only began selling PC servers in the United States last year.

Hitachi has sold between 150 and 200 of its 8880Rs to customers in industries including finance, telecommunications, aerospace, energy, manufacturing, services, education and government. The company has also promoted a few sales in two coveted markets among 8-way server vendors -- application service providers (ASPs) and e-commerce deployments.

Analyst Joe Barkan at Gartner Group (, says Hitachi’s limited sales for its nine-month lead underscore the cost structure, distribution and service capability problems that hamper Asian suppliers from competing effectively with PC server vendors in the U.S. Barkan estimates that Compaq, for example, with its 25 percent to 30 percent market share, will ship between 2,000 and 3,000 Profusion-based 8-ways within its first year on the market.

"They keep trying to break in, but it’s difficult, and it’s not going to get any easier," Barkan says of vendors, such as Hitachi, Toshiba, and Fujitsu. "The four bigwigs here [Compaq, Dell, HP, IBM] keep gaining strength. There’s not a big window to climb through to gain real market share in this business."

The most dramatic improvement in the 8890R is a more streamlined box. The 8880R took up 17U in a standard rack. Hitachi removed three 32-bit PCI slots, three 64-bit PCI slots and one of three power supplies to conserve 7U in rack space.

"It was just a behemoth," Krieger concedes. Even at 10U, the 8890R will be bigger than most of its competitors, which will slide in at about 7U. Krieger defends the engineering choice to stay bigger on cooling and storage capacity grounds. "You don’t know what the thermal characteristics of the next generation processor are going to be until it starts shipping," he says. Meanwhile, the six hot-swap LVD disk bays allow 108 GB of internal storage, expandable to 216 GB when Hitachi delivers 36 GB hard drives in Q4.

Even without six of the PCI slots that were in the 8880R, the 8890R sports 12 64-bit PCI slots, 10 of them hot-plug. Memory capacity has been doubled to 32 GB ECC SDRAM. The company also claims its memory access is faster than the Profusion chipset. But Hitachi has not published a Transaction Processing Council OLTP benchmark yet for either server model. --Scott Bekker

Profusion-based Servers

Server system vendors surrounded Intel Corp.'s announcement late last month of the availability of the 8-way Profusion chipset with unveilings of systems based on Profusion.

CompanyProductCost rangeChief differentiation
CompaqProLiant 8500$20K-$80KCompaq co-developed Profusion/Rack-optimized
CompaqProLiant 8000$20K-$80KInternal storage capacity of 382 GB in 21 slots
Data GeneralAV 8900Starts at $20KAvailable in NT cluster-in-a-box package
DellPowerEdge 8540Starts at $21KData center-capable storage options
FujitsuT800iSold in EuropeFault-resilient booting
Hitachi*VisionBase 8880Starts at $80KFirst Profusion-based system to ship (January 1999)
Hitachi*VisionBase 8890Starts at $30KOnly second-generation Profusion system
HPLXr 8500$18.5K-$66.6KMemory scrubbing, intelligent management
IBMNetfinity 8500R$20K-$80KX/Architecture: Lightpath diagnostics, active PCI
IntelOCPRF100Priced for OEMsOEMs put together release package
UnisysES5085$85KEnterprise server software (ESS) release 1.1

*Hitachi produces its own version of the Profusion chipset