Unisys, Microsoft Demo 32-way Datacenter

Windows has rapidly climbed from desktop applications, to file-and-print servers, to back-end database servers. Yet even Windows enthusiasts have been unable to deploy the operating system in massive databases or for use in solving complex math problems. It lacked the high-end multiprocessing support offered by Unix/RISC vendors such as Sun Microsystems Inc. (www.sun.com) and IBM Corp. (www.ibm.com).

That may be changing. Unisys Corp. (www.unisys.com) demonstrated a 32-processor machine running Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, suggesting that the new flavor of Windows 2000 expected to be released this summer will be appropriate for compute-intensive applications.

The 32-processor demonstration that took place in Tokyo this month delivers on a Microsoft Corp. (www.microsoft.com) promise to support 32-processor systems with Windows 2000 Datacenter Server. Unisys also performed the first 16-processor demonstration of Datacenter Server at the Windows 2000 launch in February.

Reports circulated that Microsoft and Unisys were having trouble getting the Beta 1 version of Datacenter to scale beyond 16 processors, leaving the largest SMP jobs in the exclusive domain of Unix-based operating systems. But the demonstration of Windows 2000 Datacenter on a 32-way Unisys ES7000 has pushed Microsoft far into high-end territory.

It is important to point out that the demonstration had one version of the operating system using all 32 processors. The way Unisys built the ES7000, administrators can also choose to cut the 32 processors into any partitions of four or more running a different version of the operating system in each partition. While the ES7000 will run with 64-bit Itanium processors when Intel Corp. (www.intel.com) releases them, the Tokyo demonstration was done with 32-bit Intel processors.

Some speculation suggested Microsoft would have to make a special version of Datacenter to run all 32 processors at once on the ES7000, but Redmond provided Unisys with the standard Beta 2 for the demo. "There is no special version for Unisys; it is the same Beta 2 made available to all of our system partners," says Michel Gambier, group product manager, enterprise server marketing, at Microsoft.

Alan Roochvarg, product manager at Unisys, believes that a special version of Datacenter is unnecessary to run on the ES7000. "[Datacenter] sees the HAL [Hardware Abstraction Layer] and thinks it’s just another machine," he says. Since the multiprocessing is transparent, administrators should have few worries configuring and using the machine.

When Windows 2000 Datacenter ships, the operating system will support 32-way processing for the ES7000. Whether or not Datacenter will support any future 32-way machines built on SMP or other architectures remains a question mark. "Unisys' ES7000 is the first hardware platform that will support 32 processors and as such leverage the support for that functionality in Datacenter," Gambier says. The ES7000 uses a unique hardware architecture, dubbed Cellular Multiprocessing (CMP), that differs in many respects from standard SMP architectures.

The demo featured travel software developed by ITA Software (www.itasoftware.com) for Amadeus Global Travel Distribution (www.amadeus.net) used for searching for low fares in Europe. The software searches for connections and fares between airports, developing strings of lowest cost flights. Solving topology problems like these has historically been reserved for "big iron" machines.

According to Roochvarg, the ES7000 shows linear performance gains with the addition of processors. "You double the performance when you double the processors," he says. When the ES7000 was partitioned with eight processors, it was able to complete 4.5 billion segment analyses per day using the Amadeus/ITA software. With 16 processors it process 8.5 billion segment analyses per day, and 16.5 billion per day with 32 processors.

Because the ES7000 uses Unisys’ proprietary CMP architecture, there is no clear point of comparison between its Windows 2000 performance and the performance of eight-way servers using Intel’s Profusion chipset. Gambier feels that the test run with the ITA/Amadeus software is very promising, adding, "We also expect to get good information from our JDP [Joint Development Partner] customers as they proceed with their evaluation," he says.

Unisys had to develop the CMP architecture specifically because there was little performance gain beyond eight-way with the standard SMP architecture. Roochvarg feels that CMP is superior even at eight-way. "It gets better performance than SMP because of processor degradation," he says. CMP obviates some of the processor degradation resulting from workload management issues.

Microsoft is eager to splash in the same high sales margin pool as the Unix/RISC vendors, and a partnership with Unisys, an old guard mainframe manufacturer, is a step in that direction. While the Giga Group’s (www.gigaweb.com) David Friedlander says Datacenter has great potential, he cautions, "Microsoft is likely many years away from achieving the same levels of functionality that now exist on mainframes."

Dynamic Duo

ITA/Amadeus Transactions Per Day On Unisys ES7000

ProcessorsActual PerformanceLinear Performance
84.5 billion4.5 billion
168.5 billion9 billion
3216.5 billion18 billion

Unisys Corp. and Microsoft Corp. now have their crown jewels running together at full capacity -- Unisys’ 32-processor ES70000 hardware and Microsoft’s 32-processor capable Windows 2000 Datacenter Server. The combination is showing near linear scalability on an ITA/Amadeus application, although it is unclear how the performance compares to standard eight-processor SMP performance.

For more coverage of Datacenter Server see:

Datacenter Server: Now We’re Cooking with Gas
Scott Bekker

Microsoft Steps into the Light with Datacenter Server
Scott Bekker