Multiprocessors and life after Intel

Multiprocessors and life after Intel

George White, president of eight-way multiprocessor maker Corollary, recently sat down with IDG reporter David Pendery to discuss the company's acquisition by Intel and its future plansPendery: What is the significance of eight- way Intel processor-powered servers to the enterprise?

White: The development and coming standardisation of eight-way Intel processor-powered servers is significant, because they are another step in letting users know that the Intel architecture is not just for desktop design, but also for the high-end market.

End users who may have been thinking that only RISC-based machines could serve their most demanding applications will take another look when they see the power of the eight-processor Intel machines. I think it will also keep accelerating the growth of four-processor machines, because customers like to use a product line that has a broad range. As a result, while eight-way systems will remain somewhat differentiated, over time one would expect to see them in higher volume and at lower cost.

Pendery: Is the market ready to welcome eight-way Intel servers?

White: Almost. I think Windows NT 5.0 will go a long way toward improving the market readiness for this. And there has been a lot of talk over the last 12 months from vendors about what they are going to be doing, which has gotten people interested.

Pendery: Why has an eight-way Intel standard been slow to develop? Was Intel slow in its contribution to eight-way development?

White: The technology is very difficult. Corollary, NCR, and several other vendors had announced they were developing this. I think the companies who have been working on it have taken quite a bit longer to finish than they had originally predicted.

I think it is great that Intel designed multi-processing into the Pentium Pro and the other processors that are part of that family, but I think that their original thought was that four-way processors would cover quite a bit of the market and that if anyone wanted to get higher performance, clustering might emerge as a way to get eight- or 12-processor performance out of a collection of fours.

I think Intel may have been very interested in clustering and put too many eggs in that basket and has apparently decided that clustering does attack a different problem than symmetric multiprocessing or SMP, and that it might make sense to get involved with the eight-way market.

Pendery: What were the motivating design considerations in Corollary's eight-way development?

White: The first concern was to be compatible with the popular four-way processors. Another concern was to answer the question "Where's the beef?" and to be sure that the eight-way machine ran significantly faster than the four-processor machine.

One of our criteria was that it not only be cost effective when configured with eight processors but also cost effective compared to a four, when the eight-way was half-configured.

We believed that most four-processor machines are initially shipped with only two processors; dual-processor machines tended to only have one processor.

So we think most eight-processor machines will start out their lives with only four processors.

We wanted to pick an architectural approach that didn't handicap itself at the four-processor point in order to do what it needed to do at the eight-processor position.

Pendery: Are SMP and clustering opposing technologies or do they both aim to solve the same problems?

White: A year ago there were people who thought that clustering could provide the same performance benefits as SMPs. I think now most people see that SMP's strength is fluid load - balancing among the various processors, and increased performance as you add processors, whereas clustering's strength is primarily in fail-over and fault tolerance.

And if you thought you might want a backup machine to your four-processor machine, I think you would certainly want a backup machine to your eight-processor machine.

Pendery: Could eight-way Intel machines begin to replace mainframe Unix machines?

White: Yes. Not overnight, but I do believe so. We started Corollary 12 years ago with the idea that the PC architecture would grow up and take over the computing world, if only it had multiprocessing, and I think that that will eventually happen, and more and more of the computing world will be handled by machines that have processors in them that are similar to the types of processors that are in desktop machines.

Pendery: How robust is the support for eight-way Intel operating systems?

White: As compared with the Unix systems that have been out there for a while, the answer is "getting better all the time".

The first version of Windows NT was okay at three or four processors, and it wouldn't have made much sense to go much beyond that.

Each version of NT has gotten both more robust from a reliability point of view and also better at scaling above four processors.

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