Microsoft plans NUMA for Windows

Microsoft has embarked on an effort to let Windows server customers begin to take advantage of the increased multi-processor capabilities of Intel's Xeon MP chips.

Microsoft will introduce NUMA (Non Uniform Memory Access) technology to future versions of its Windows server operating systems, according to representatives for the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant. Microsoft offers two versions of Windows for servers, .Net Enterprise Server, and .Net Datacenter.

Available for years in high-end Unix servers running SMP (symmetric multi-processor) configurations as large as 32-way, NUMA technology allows for faster communication between distributed memory in a multi-processor server, explained Brad Day, a senior analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

Microsoft's motivation in bringing NUMA to Windows stems from the recent release of Intel's Xeon MP (multi-processor) server chips, which can scale to as many as 16-way SMP configurations.

As Vendors such as Intel Corp., Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., and others begin introducing servers based on Xeon MP that run more than 8-way processor configurations, NUMA technology will be there as an option for users looking for stable computing platforms on such high-end server systems, said Day.

"Microsoft up to this point has really been focusing on optimizing their SMP scaling for up to 8-way server frame works," explained Day. "But now vendors realize they can build larger quads -- combinations of four processors -- based on the Xeon MP."

"And when you start to expand the microprocessor architecture of servers beyond 8-way, you need to take advantage of both near and far memory to get better scaling, that's what NUMA brings," said Day.

IBM's recently introduced x440 server represents the beginning of the arrival of Xeon MP-based servers. The x440 scales up to a 16-way system according to IBM.

The move to embrace NUMA in Windows Server operating systems also sets Microsoft on a course to better compete with high-end Unix servers from IBM and Sun, which sells a Unix OS variant called Solaris.

Microsoft has given a great deal of freedom to its server operating system developers to find new technologies to add to Windows server OSes to keep them competitive against Unix OS flavors, and NUMA will become only one of many options for Windows server customers looking to scale beyond 8-way servers, said Day.

For example, Microsoft also supports SMP server company Unisys which makes a 32-way SMP server that already runs the Windows Server OS.

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