November 25, 1996 10 AM ET

Compaq eyes 8-CPU systems
New breed of SMP raises the bar for Pentium Pro architectures

By Stephanie LaPolla

  LAS VEGAS -- Compaq Computer Corp. will be among the first vendors to unveil a new breed of PC servers next year, as the forces behind eight-processor SMP machines push forward.

At Comdex here last week, Corollary Inc., Hyundai Electronics America and Integrated Business Computers demonstrated technology to build eight-processor systems for Intel Corp.'s Pentium Pro.

According to sources, Compaq is in discussions to license Corollary's Profusion bus-based technology. Profusion melds three Pentium Pro buses and two main memory subsystems, providing two 64-bit paths for memory and I/O controllers.

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Hitachi Ltd. will use Profusion in future systems, said Corollary officials in Irvine, Calif.

Compaq's move toward the eight-way territory would be a strategic shift for the Houston company, which has stood strongly beside the clustering of two four-processor systems.

"We are investigating eight-way technology broadly in the industry," said Jerele Neeld, a Compaq spokesman. "At this point our direction is still clusters of four-way servers, but we are looking out beyond mid-1997 to see what we should be doing and the potential benefits for our customers."

"Part of Compaq's strategy is to make a push into the midrange," said Lynda Fitzpatrick, an analyst with International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass. "But I think it will be a few more quarters before we see eight-way products from Compaq, IBM and [Hewlett-Packard Co.]. They have a lot of work to do with [Windows] NT to make it scale past four-way."

For its part, Hyundai offered peeks at an eight-processor Pentium Pro Windows NT-based server at Comdex. Officials of the Milpitas, Calif., company offered no specifics on availability or price of the system. But sources said it is built on the company's own multilevel bus technology, which branches two separate buses off the Pentium Pro common bus and includes a third-level cache.

Another architecture emerged last week from IBC, an engineering company in Simi Valley, Calif. The company introduced the Galaxy Class server, which will handle full-motion streaming video and digital audio over the Internet and over intranets.

Based on the company's own Hexadecimal Extended-bandwidth Multimaster Interface, a 128-bit nonmultiplexed bus, it will include up to 1 terabyte of storage and 1G byte of memory when it becomes available next spring, priced from $50,000, said company officials. IBC is also interested in licensing the architecture to OEMs.

IS professionals who are looking for headroom to grow beyond four Pentium Pro chips in a PC server are casting a watchful eye on the recent industry developments. But some say software applications often lag behind hardware innovations, obstructing deployment.

"It's nice to have the hardware power, but if the software can't take advantage of it, it doesn't do a whole lot of good," said Thom Bergin, network and project manager at Naval Sea Logistics Center Pacific, in Concord, Calif., who noted he has trouble even today getting some databases to run on a four-way SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) configuration.

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