At its developers forum in Palm Springs, California last week, Intel officials asked why, once it is able to deliver on its IA-64 promise, anyone would choose to deploy servers based on anything but Intel chips.
In the past, the simple answers would have been scalability and availability. Moving forward, however, technologies are being readied that may silence those concerns.
At the forefront of those technologies is the Non-Uniform Memory Access (NUMA) architecture, a highly scalable server architecture first delivered by Sequent in 1997.
Soon to be the newest server division within IBM, Sequent is planning to share NUMA technology with IBM's Netfinity and RS6000 divisions. Sequent is now readying NUMA-based servers designed to leverage the increased power of Intel's upcoming chip offerings in an effort to enter the data center.
The first product in the line, dubbed Centurion, will be an IA-32 system running Intel's Cascade chip, which is expected to arrive in early 2000 with clock speeds of over 700MHz. Centurion will use the NUMA architecture to support as many as 64 processors, 64GB of main memory, and as much as 64 terabytes of mass storage. Centurion will be followed later in 2000 with another 32-bit system based on Intel's Foster chip, which is expected to exceed a speed of 1GHz.
But the arrival of Intel's IA-64 architecture, due for delivery in the middle of 2000, will be crucial to the company's data center push.
Sequent's initial 64-bit offering, code-named Viper, will support from one to 16 processors, can scale in increments of one, and has as much as 64GB of main memory. Viper will also offer 24 PCI slots, with support of as many as 16 PCI buses, and be optimized to run both Monterey Unix and Windows NT.
Looking out further, Sequent is planning even greater scalability for its first server supporting Intel's second generation IA-64 chip, McKinley. Code-named Magnum, the server will leverage NUMA to support up to 64 processor-quads, allowing systems to support between 128 and 256 processors.
Not only will Magnum be highly scalable, it will be capable of running both McKinley and Foster, offering a joint 32-64-bit system.
Of course, a true data center solution requires substantial software support, and that could be a stumbling block for NUMA, according to Amir Ahari, a program manager at International Data Corp., in Framingham, Massachusetts.
"NUMA is a very powerful architecture in terms of scalability. It's a design that works," Ahari said. "But if you have nothing to run on it, it's worthless."
To overcome that obstacle, Sequent has been working with Microsoft to ensure that data center-level scalability and availability is built into Windows 2000.
Sequent is also counting on a boost from the arrival of Monterey Unix, which it has been jointly developing with IBM, Intel, SCO, and Compaq, in the IA-64 time frame. That release, Ahari said, could be a key to boosting NUMA acceptance.
Sequent Computer Systems Inc., in Beaverton, Oregon, is at http://www.sequent.com/.