Sequent in the spotlight

IBM's $US810 million acquisition of Sequent Computer Systems last week stands to have a substantial impact on the data center as Big Blue moves to bring Sequent's server architecture out of the shadows of technology and into the daylight of mainstream use.

Sequent's Non-Uniform Memory Access (NUMA) architecture may not end up being the defining technology for Unix and Windows NT servers in the next millennium - as IBM officials predicted - but it does have the unique feature of allowing multiple operating systems and applications to run on one server with multiple processors. Therefore, analysts said that NUMA is likely to play a significant role in helping corporations sculpt a variety of compute-intensive architectures.

"[NUMA] may not be the keystone upon which everything turns over the next few years, but it does have a lot of value for large-scale complicated computing problems," said Richard Buchanan, a senior analyst at the Meta Group.

Buchanan and others agree that the NUMA design should give IBM a technological advantage over many of its major competitors.

"NUMA isn't necessarily going to knock everything back on its heels, but it looks like it gives us some good incremental value over things that Compaq might be able to offer at this point," said Jake Solomon, a systems purchaser for a large architecture firm in Chicago.

Observers said one key strategic advantage that NUMA offers is the ability to consolidate niche programs and mission-critical applications into the same box, thereby saving hardware costs. NUMA will also allow users to manage multiple applications and data stores from a single server, another key to consolidation that is also an administrative boon.

"We do have those oddball sorts of platforms spread around the enterprise that do specialised computing. It would be nice to have a single and reliable platform where we can incorporate, or just better control these things," said David Levine, an IT manager at a large Midwestern chemical company.

IBM officials last week said they plan to weave complementary NUMA technology into all of the company's major server platforms, which observers said will greatly bolster Big Blue's server consolidation and distributed computing strategies.

In addition, NUMA technology does not force applications to share memory across multiple processors. This means that each individual processor can do different kinds of work, and that a single server can handle multiple types of tasks at once. This gives IT managers more flexibility in running a mix of applications.

"NUMA does allow you to put in a mainframe environment which can run multiple applications within the same processor stack, and for a server consolidation strategy [it] makes a lot of sense," said the Meta Group's Buchanan.

To date, Sequent has been the most ardent supporter of NUMA, being one of the first companies to bring it to market in early 1997.

With the acquisition of Sequent and the strength of its current product line, IBM hopes to take advantage of NUMA in a way that may put it a step ahead in offering complete, enterprisewide solutions.

"We are already building capabilities into our future chips to take advantage of NUMA," said Robert Stephenson, a senior vice president and group executive at IBM. "There will not be a wall between our organisations."

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