IBM, Digital Display Pentium-Based Servers

There will be a lot of Pentium Pro (P6) chip talk at NetWorld+Interop 96 this week.

IBM and Digital Equipment Corp. will showcase servers based on the new microprocessor, and others, such as Hewlett-Packard Co., will discuss their plans.

Despite the expected trade show bustle over the chip, a creeping malaise has come over some Intel Corp.-based server vendors -- including Compaq Computer Corp. and Dell Computer Corp. -- which see a powerful chip on a slow ramp to success.

When Intel announced the P6 during the last fourth quarter, the firm hyped the chip as best suited for servers and stressed the fact that it closed the performance gap between Reduced Instruction Set Computing chips and Intel-based microprocessors when running mission-critical applications.

The current ambivalence over the chip is tied to the principal software expected to take advantage of its advancements: Windows NT. Many customers remain in the pilot stages with the network operating system, so they do not need to invest in P6 servers yet, according to analysts.

Executives at Compaq and Dell echoed those sentiments.

"You won't see volume shipments of Pentium Pro servers until late '96, early 1997," said Gene Austin, Compaq's vice president of marketing.

Dell, which already debuted P6-based desktops, will not rush its P6 servers due to its belief that customers are not in need of the increased performance, said Scott Weinbrandt, Dell's director of server marketing.

Dell and others, such as Tricord Systems Inc., NetFrame Systems Inc., Data General Corp. and AST Research Inc., will wait until the second half of the year to offer their P6 servers.

"The server market is a conservative one, the Pentium Pro [chip] pricing is on the high side, and many of these [administrators] still aren't doing Windows NT," noted Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Dataquest Inc., a consultancy in San Jose, California.

The chip features twice the throughput of the Pentium in some configurations and is optimized for 32-bit applications, which developers are writing at a furious pace, according to analysts. As a consequence, when administrators embrace NT 4.0 -- the next release -- and its corresponding applications, a similar love affair will begin with the P6 chip, they said.

Interviews with several customers indicate some have the expense accounts to immediately fiddle with P6 server technology, but many cannot cost- justify a P6 purchase with smooth-running servers already in place.

"I am hesitant on going to any first version of an operating system or a new processor," said Eric Gasior, a net administrator for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. He recently bought a Compaq Pentium-based ProLiant server. "Basically, we figured the Pentium was good enough," and money was saved in the process, said Gasior, who opted to expand his server memory instead of increasing his processing speed.

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