Datacenter Server: Now We’re Cooking with Gas

Microsoft Corp. recently delivered one positive technology development for the enterprise, although it was completely buried amid the onslaught of disparaging press about being split up by the courts with pundits widely branding Microsoft arrogant and grossly incompetent from a legal standpoint.

Fittingly, the news happened outside the United States.

It seems Windows 2000 Datacenter Server can run across 32 processors after all. Unisys Corp. ( demonstrated Windows 2000 Datacenter Server running across all 32 processors of its E-action ES7000 Enterprise Server at a Unisys forum in Tokyo in mid-June.

The canned demonstration is a technology victory for Microsoft, which appears to be coming through on one of the three major scalability enhancements promised with Datacenter Server. The others are four-node failover clustering and 64 GB memory support.

Questions had been surfacing about whether Microsoft would be able to deliver 32-processor support with the initial release of Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, which has already slipped past delivery deadlines that had already slipped.

Details were sparse after the demonstration about how much tinkering was done to make the system work. Unisys had been waiting for Microsoft’s Beta 2 code to stripe the OS across all 32 processors of its big, new system. Unisys was also first to demonstrate 16 processors running Windows 2000 Datacenter Server back at the Windows 2000 launch in February.

To a large extent the question is academic. Microsoft has only one hardware partner offering a 32-processor Intel system right now and for the foreseeable future. The Compaq Computer Corp. ( 32-processor system, remember, is OEMd from Unisys. For that matter, it appears Unisys is going to be the only 16 processor vendor around too, with a halfway configured ES7000, at least for 32-bit systems. If Microsoft rewrites the operating system to support Unisys’ Cellular Multiprocessing box, it is effectively rewriting the OS to support all the 32-way systems on the market.

The more serious question is about how the performance will compare to Profusion-based eight-way systems running Windows NT and Windows 2000 and how it will compare to competitive SMP configurations on other operating systems.

Unisys demonstrated the 32-way system running the Amadeus/ITA Software application software in use by European airlines for least-cost flight routing. Unisys says the low-fare application analyzed 16.6 billion flight segments per day on the 32-way system, compared with 8.5 billion analyzed by the same system on the Datacenter Server/ES7000 configured with 16 processors. Unisys says the demonstration shows the CMP architecture eliminates the usual degradation of individual processor performance as more and more processors are added.

But Unisys is not initially saying how many flight segments per day can be analyzed on its standard Profusion-based eight-way model in the E-action line, so no meaningful comparisons of Datacenter’s performance can be made yet.

The ITA/Amadeus software, with its calculations of possibilities of myriad airports, airlines, and routes, is far more complex than most e-commerce applications, and probably provides a fuller demonstration of the new platform’s capabilities than the standard Transaction Processing Performance Council ( TPC-C benchmark. Unisys and Microsoft could still go a long way toward building industry confidence in the ES7000/Datacenter combination by publishing a result that shows the scalability of the system in TPC-C terms.

That can all be hashed out later, though. It’s impossible to improve performance on a system that doesn’t work. The important thing is that the Microsoft-Intel combination is running on 32 processors, showing systems administrators light at the end of the tunnel. The day is coming when Microsoft will offer a credible, not just affordable, choice for the largest data center deployments.