Intel, Microsoft and Compaq are readying a standard interconnect for clustering Intel servers that should speed the development of distributed system architectures based on commodity processors.
Set to be launched this quarter, the initiative calls for Intel, Microsoft, and Compaq to work with 40 other vendors to define the Via specification, which will allow software platform vendors to support clusters by adding a single set of drivers to their operating systems.
However, other vendors, such as Sun, are not giving this coalition any breathing room. Sun has announced its Full Moon software and APIs for the creation of applications for Solaris clusters. The company later this year will roll out support for two-, four-, and eight-node high-availability clusters, with functionality coming in 1998 to create a clusterwide file system, global device access, and global networking.
In 1999, Sun will offer disaster-recovery features on its clusters, bringing some fault tolerance to Solaris and rivaling the offerings of clustering veterans IBM, Digital, and Hewlett-Packard, analysts said.
However, with distributed clusters based on Intel processors still a ways off, vendors such as Digital and HP are now focusing their efforts to bolster scalability by delivering traditional symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) servers that can accommodate as many as 32 processors.
Code-named WildFire, Digital's server ships this year with an enhanced version of Digital's Memory Channel and a nonuniform memory access (NUMA) architecture to give OpenVMS applications more power, Digital officials confirmed.
That architecture uses middleware, dubbed Galaxies, that minimizes NUMA's inherent latency and gives it the capability to run existing applications and operating systems without modification, according to a source within Digital.
Digital's technology could have major repercussions for Windows NT because that OS could be tweaked to run on Digital's new SMP server, dodging the current scalability limitations of existing operating systems that must be reworked to run on NUMA-based systems, analysts said.
Not to be outdone, HP will launch into commercial markets this year its large SMP server based on Convex supercomputer technology. Called Lancelot, it will run HP-UX and other Unix applications natively.
"Intel really wants this clustering technology to work, because that means they'll sell an awful lot of servers," said an Intel development partner who requested anonymity.
Clustering Intel's commodity hardware could be the least expensive way to create a large SMP server that runs out-of-box software, but stumbling blocks such as the delay of Microsoft's Wolfpack APIs have some wondering when and where such technology will become commercially viable.