Scaling Out of the Depths
HowardWodack, vice president of information systems at the automotive fleet managementspecialist Automotive Resources International (ARI), says he is anticipatingthe forthcoming release of Windows 2000 Datacenter Server.
"Oneof the things that we want to assess as early in the year as possible isWindows 2000 Datacenter, because I think that it makes a whole lot of sense forus," Wodack explains, noting that his company is in the midst of migratingfrom a mainframe-based fleet management software application to one residing onWindows NT 4.0.
Among otherattractions, Wodack says Datacenter Server will let ARI get rid of theindividual Windows NT servers that are today powering its applicationinfrastructure by consolidating systems on a single box, such as a 32-wayES7000 system from Unisys Corp. (see Product Profile).
Such astrategy would have been unthinkable less than four years ago, when WindowsNT's ability to scale beyond even four processors was in question. Marketinghype aside, Microsoft and its enterprise Windows line have come a long way,indeed.
ScalabilityThen & Now
In May1997, Microsoft’s Scalability Day event was a classic example of the company'smarketing-driven approach to software development. None of the technologiesMicrosoft debuted at Scalability Day were shipping, and some industry punditsspeculated that the software giant might never make good on its optimisticclaims, such as the ability to process 1 billion transactions in a single day.
At thefestivities, Microsoft outlined a strategy based on horizontal scalability bymeans of clustering. This strategy was chosen primarily because Windows NT 4.0simply couldn't scale in large-scale SMP configurations, says Richard Fichera,senior vice president and research fellow at Giga Information.
"In1997, Microsoft outlined a horizontal strategy because it just couldn't dovertical scalability. Clustering became the answer to all of itsproblems," he explains.
Fastforward four years and things have come full circle.
Microsoft'slate-September Enterprise Day event marked the official launch of the company'smost powerful operating system to date: Windows 2000 Datacenter Server. Withsupport for memory configurations up to 64 GB and four-node clusteringcapabilities, Datacenter Server also scales vertically -- to the tune of 32processors. How did Microsoft manage to come so far, so fast?
MichaelStephenson, lead product manager for enterprise Windows servers at Microsoft,says the company has worked extensively at improving Windows 2000's SMPscalability on both an internal basis -- with dedicated scalability developmentteams -- and by working with partners.
Stephensonpoints to the hardware engineering efforts of partners like Unisys, whichdesigned a sophisticated crossbar switch for its ES7000 servers that cansignificantly increase memory bandwidth. Unisys' ES7000 server also leverages amainframe-like architecture -- dubbed cellular multiprocessing (CMP) -- thatcan be partitioned into discrete multiple systems running across one or moreprocessors. Unisys will OEM ES7000 systems for Compaq and Hewlett-Packard inaddition to its own sales.
The result,Stephenson says, is that Microsoft plans to shop Windows 2000 Datacenter Serverto organizations that are seeking to replace high-end RISC/Unix systems and --like ARI's Wodack -- want to consolidate multiple servers on a single large SMPsystem.
SteveJones, director of strategic sales operations at Unisys, agrees.
"Almostall of the analysts today are talking about the use and requirement of verticalscaling to consolidate servers and help drive down TCO [total cost ofownership]," Jones says. "They want to get rid of these server farms,or they want to move off of expensive mainframes that cost a lot to maintainand develop for. Windows 2000 Datacenter Server and our CMP architecture are comingalong at the right time.
Even thoughMicrosoft championed clustering at its 1997 Scalability Day, it never actuallydelivered a scalable clustering solution of its own. Even today, the company'sMicrosoft Cluster Services (MSCS) provide only support for failover betweenclustered systems.
Microsoftworked to bolster its horizontal scalability story by other means. Thecompany's TCP/IP load-balancing feature provides the ability to"cluster" up to 32 Windows 2000 Advanced Server or Windows 2000Datacenter Server systems together in a single system image. And when Microsoftintroduces its much-anticipated Application Center add-on for Windows 2000Datacenter Server later this year, it will provide a COM+ load-balancingfeature that will let organizations distribute applications across up to 32clustered nodes, Stephenson claims.
Microsoft'spartners are also lending a hand. Dell Computer has worked with CornellUniversity's Cornell Theory Center (CTC) to engineer a 256 processor, 64-nodeWindows 2000 cluster based on 16 of its four-way PowerEdge servers. Accordingto Matt Boucher, a representative with Dell's enterprise server division, hiscompany has a lot of experience engineering scalable clustering solutions for avariety of platforms. Also, Compaq recently set another TPC/C benchmark recordwith a 24-way cluster of ProLiant servers running Windows 2000 DatacenterServer and SQL Server 2000. Today the top six performance results in the TPC/Cbenchmark were achieved on clustered servers running Windows 2000. Four yearsago, Windows NT 4.0 could barely break the top 50.
Microsofttook its share of lumps for the 1997 Scalability Day event, but according toGiga’s Fichera, the software giant actually staged an impressive technologydemonstration.
"Peopletend to look at demonstrations such as Scalability Day as a black eye forMicrosoft, but it was a very good technology demonstration," he explains."There are commercial systems running today that far exceed thescalability goals that they outlined on that day."
In thefinal analysis, Fichera says, Microsoft has a very good scalability story totell today -- far better than it could have predicted in 1997.
"Thefundamental picture is that [scalability has] gotten much, much better,"he concludes. "Microsoft can now look its users straight in the eye andtalk about using horizontal and vertical where its customers most need to doso. Four years ago, they truly weren't in that position."
Giga Information Group, Cambridge, Mass., www.gigaweb.com
DellComputer Corp., Austin,Tex., www.dell.com
UnisysCorp., Blue Bell, Pa., www.unisys.com
AutomotiveResources International,Mount Laurel, N.J., www.arifleet.com