In the first half of 1998 Intel will try and set the pace at which IT managers march toward server-hardware upgrades. However, many companies may be better off staying with their existing Pentium Pro architectures until the second half of the year.
The .25-micron version of the Pentium II, code-named Deschutes, will at first be available in a Slot-1-ready cartridge as early as the first quarter and will ship with a new BX core-logic chip set, according to sources familiar with the Intel road map. However, Slot 1 will be limited for use in two-way processor systems with a maximum of 512KB of Level 2 cache.
Only in the second half of the year will Intel upgrade Deschutes with a Slot-2 version and an NX450 chip set, which will add four-way processor support and 2MB of cache that runs at full-system speed rather than a half-system speed.
"We're OK with Pentium Pro 200 and we'll wait on our large-scale conversion," says Lorin Olsen, senior manager of groupware and email, at Sprint Technology Services, in Kansas City. "We're more interested in the Slot 2 because of the four-way capability and because its design suffers less from poor multiprocessor ratio. That's the amount of processor you realize vs. the amount you purchase."
And finding the right system balance is the key issue facing IT managers as they get ready to adopt new server architectures.
"As you add each additional processor the system takes more of the resources to manage it. With the changes from Slot 1 to Slot 2 you'll see higher ratios," Olsen says. "Based on what Intel has released we'll get what we need out of a four-way Pentium Pro until the four-way Deschutes is available."
At least one analyst agrees.
"If an IT manager needs a four-processor machine, he should wait because the two-processor machine is not upgradable," says Peter Glaskowsky, a senior analyst at the Microprocessor Report.
Included with the NX450 chip set will be support for optional cluster interconnect for anything greater than a four-way server, support for four, rather than two, Universal Serial Bus ports, and support for IEEE-1394 Device Bay, the source said. This chip set is key for clustering beyond four ways. A high-end Intel option is the eight-way server designs from Corollary, which Intel acquired last month, or Axil, a unit of Hyundai.
"Profusion [Corollary's solution for eight-way processing] is out of gas at eight processors," Glaskowsky said. "The NX450 chip set allows a manufacturer to take standard four-processor Deschutes, then connect to another four-way and you can have eight or 12 or 16 ... ," Glaskowsky says.
According to a source familiar with Intel's plans, the company has an internal goal of making the four-way Deschutes capable of 12,000 transactions per minute.
"That would allow system OEMs to deliver a commodity box that is the equivalent of a much higher-priced enterprise server," the source said.
The two-way Deschutes with BX is a better desktop chip set, the source added. The only benefits are a faster system bus and main-memory interface, which run at 100 MHz.
Intel officials declined to comment.
Intel Corp., in Santa Clara, Calif., is at http://www.intel.com.