Throughput computing shapes up as next systems vendor battle

Brewing in the background of the utility computing debate is another equally interesting breakthrough. Recently, Sun Microsystems threw down the gauntlet to Intel and challenged them to an arm wrestling match based on Throughput (the ability to pass and process I/O) and not clock speed.

Sun contends that systems are being designed to mask technology inefficiencies. For example, desktop architectures were never designed to process multiple I/O paths or threads effectively whilst on the other hand, the Solaris operating system takes advantage of huge numbers of simultaneous tasks being fed by multiple threads. Combine this feature with that of placing more than two chips on a single wafer and the potential for very intense computing power suddenly becomes a reality. Since Intel has stated that future versions of its server chips will be designed with multiple thread processing, and IBM already has multiple chips (or cores) on a wafer (its pSeries), perhaps there is truth to Sun’s claims.

IDC believes that if there is a battle for Throughput computing, the real winners will be the customer base.

IDC’s research has shown that Throughput computing could affect at least 20 areas of the IT infrastructure. A few benefits could include:

- Creating a server on a chip or create a new server form factor
- Speeding up server consolidation since a traditional server such as a 4-way would become a 2-way or even a uni processor
- Challenge systems vendors to develop methods to feed CPU memory, which has not been able to keep up with faster chip and I/O technologies.
- Enhance resource virtualisation and management capabilities
- Simplify I/O fan-out and data centre infrastructures.

However, there are obstacles to be overcome if Throughput computing is the next ‘Big Thing’. Memory management will be a key challenge as systems could require very large amounts of memory to keep the processor and I/O fed. Partitioning the server resources will become fundamentally critical to the effective utilisation of these new highly powerful, but dense server platforms. Finally, customers will be looking for ways to account and charge back for these resources in such a granular manner. Systems suppliers that offer comprehensive billing capabilities for Throughput computing will be embraced by the end-user community and will obtain a competitive advantage.

IDC believes that Throughput computing is a technology initiative that will receive plenty of end-user scrutiny. Its potential benefits could be significant to the ongoing trends of building efficient ‘utility-based’ computing environments. IDC research shows that customers should be on the lookout for the early rollout in 2004. However, IDC also realises that the doors that Throughput computing opens will challenge many suppliers’ resources and capabilities and therefore could create opportunities for the larger and fewer major vendors.

Vernon Turner is group vice president, global enterprise server solutions, IDC

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