Unisys says that in 1998 it will release a mainframe for Windows NT--a superserver with 32 Intel Pentium II or Intel Merced processors. (Merced versions will appear after Merced chips are released.) Unisys will base the new server on its ServerPlus Cellular Multi-Processing (CMP) technology. With CMP technology, you can use the server as one massive processor complex or as four separate 8-way processor complexes. In the latter case, for example, two complexes could run NT and the other two run UNIX.
The Unisys plan is to use its UNIX, mainframe, and service expertise to create a more powerful NT server that vendors could offer as a high-end hardware solution. Unisys will certify approximately 2000 engineers on NT, and at the same time, will seek approval from Intel of its complex designs.
HP or Digital: Which Is Faster?
HP shipped its new 8-processor servers in January. The new systems are the first of their kind, going to market ahead of 8-way systems by Compaq Computer, IBM, Dell Computer, and others.
HP claimed that the new systems--HP NetServer LXr PRO8--produced the world's best Windows NT-based system performance on the SAP R/3 Sales and Distribution (SD) benchmark, but apparently those claims aren't correct. Digital Equipment's new line of servers is considerably faster than any HP offering.
According to information on Digital's Web site, the company also conducted SD benchmarks last year, which produced record-breaking results: an average dialog response time of 1.45 seconds on a 2001-user SD benchmark. This average response time is 38 percent faster than that obtained by Data General, 79 percent faster than Compaq, and 122 percent faster than HP.
Digital achieved these results by combining the power of Digital's AlphaServer and x86 Prioris with NT 4.0 and the Informix Online Dynamic Server 7.x database. The report shows that the setup can fully process 210,000 order line items per hour. SAP audited and certified the test results. For more information about this report, visit http://www.digital.com/info/prw00q.
No More CPU Overclocking
Overclocking is setting the CPU to run at a faster speed than the unit was originally intended to run at by adjusting jumpers on the motherboard. Manufacturers say this practice overstresses the chips, but some users think that it doesn't and that they have the right to overclock if they want to.
If you're a Windows NT box overclocker, your adventures might soon be over. Intel might make this act virtually impossible with future renditions of its chips. The company is reportedly bonding the chips' multiplier pins, effectively removing the opportunity to overclock the chips. Intel has made the change in its Pentium II processors and other Pentium chips with Multimedia Extensions (MMX) technology.
Intel wouldn't confirm the report, but a company representative said Intel is concerned about unscrupulous firms overclocking chips. Such firms might relabel a system as having a faster CPU speed, but not tell the consumer about the overclocking used to achieve those faster speeds.
Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) processors don't restrict overclocking, and with Intel chips, you can still accelerate the motherboard's bus for added advantages in certain setups. In any case, overclocking can introduce potential system trouble.
NT Graphics to Heat Up
Microsoft and Silicon Graphics are collaborating to create a new 3D graphics architecture called Fahrenheit. The companies plan to create this architecture by combining Silicon Graphics' OpenGL and scene graph with Microsoft's DirectX. (OpenGL is already present in Windows NT.) But don't look for this technology to appear anytime soon. Analysts say scene graph extensions won't surface until sometime this year, and the low-level API for Fahrenheit won't be ready until the year 2000. Both companies point out that in the meantime, OpenGL is the way to go for high-end professional graphics, and DirectX is better for games and consumer applications.
The UNIX workstation market is suffering at the hands of NT, and Silicon Graphics plans to use Fahrenheit to get a firm hold on the Windows/Intel (Wintel) market. But the company isn't waiting for Fahrenheit to get started: Silicon Graphics plans to enter the Wintel market in mid-1998 with new NT-based systems.
Internet Explorer 4.01
Internet Explorer (IE) 4.0 has been out only a short time, and already Microsoft has released IE 4.01, the first update to the software. Microsoft says IE 4.01 contains fixes that solve conflicts with Home Base software (preinstalled on some Compaq Computer Presarios) and addresses general stability issues that lead to crashes, lock-ups, and other oddities. IE 4.01 includes fixes for several security risks and some new features--font sizes, colors, and styles--for vision-impaired users. Microsoft has also trimmed the download size of IE 4.01 by having the install program determine which files are current on your system, so you don't need to download those files again. You can learn more about the update and download a copy from Microsoft's Web site (http://www.microsoft.com/ie).
Pretty Good Privacy Sold
Network Associates, the entity created by the 1997 merger of McAfee Associates and Network General, has bought Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), maker of popular encryption products. The purchase price was $35 million in cash.
Clustering's New Virtual Interface
Microsoft, Intel, Compaq Computer, and more than 100 other companies recently released a new specification--Virtual Interface (VI) Architecture 1.0--for increasing performance and reliability in clustered systems. This specification will serve as the foundation for the system area network (SAN), a specialized network optimized for the reliability and performance requirements of clusters.
VI Architecture provides an industry-standard, high-speed cluster communication interface. This interface will dramatically improve the performance of distributed applications by reducing the latency associated with critical message-passing operations--distributed enterprise computing requires very-low-latency, high-bandwidth communications.
The companies wrote the specification in only eight months for the usual reason: When an architecture isn't exactly the way the developer wants it, the developer often helps design a new specification. And when Microsoft is involved, that specification usually becomes an industry standard very quickly.
VI Architecture is critical to the success of Microsoft Cluster Server (MSCS--formerly code-named Wolfpack), which Microsoft released last fall as part of Windows NT Server 4.0, Enterprise Edition. MSCS is important to NT's evolution, because MSCS has the potential to catapult the operating system into high-end shops that demand fail-safe protection and robust performance. But to improve MSCS's performance, Microsoft needs developers to create new clustering hardware.
Products based on the VI Architecture are scheduled to become available in 1998. These include high-performance SAN interface cards; high-speed, scalable switches for SANs; and database products. For more information about the VI Architecture, visit http://www.viarch.org.
Managers Must Close the Information Gap
A recently released survey reveals that many companies have given their IS managers a mandate to close the information gap between users and the data they need. Those surveyed seem to think a large percentage of this gap has been created by diversity (i.e., unlike systems housing unlike information formats) among systems used. The Strategic Research Division of Find/SVP, a New York-based research and consulting company, conducted the survey on behalf of EMC, a world leader in storage systems and software for mainframe and open systems environments.
The research company surveyed 700 IS executives from a worldwide cross-section of large corporations whose networks consist of at least 1 mainframe, 4 UNIX or NT servers, 75 PCs, and 50GBs of combined mainframe and open systems storage. Of the 700 IS executives polled, 300 were from the US, 300 were from 6 European countries, and 100 were from Australia and South Africa.
The study shows that
- 84 percent of IS executives surveyed have been given a mandate to close the information gap in their companies, regardless of what type of computer created the information needed. About 79 percent of those given the mandate are concerned about their ability to close this gap.
- 43 percent of IS executives surveyed say their systems were unexpectedly down more than five times in the past year, and 13 percent of those surveyed experienced unplanned downtime of more than one day. Respondents say downtime plays a big role in closing the information gap. More than half the people reporting downtime attributed this downtime to either backing up data or transferring data to another location.
- 92 percent of the executives surveyed say they gather information from a variety of different computer systems, but most run into roadblocks when trying to share data because of the multitude of computer operating systems in use in their companies.
- 62 percent of IS executives surveyed prefer to consolidate their company's information on enterprise storage systems in their data centers rather than on individual storage devices attached to single servers. Sixty-three percent of those surveyed believe scalable enterprise storage is the way to accommodate the rapid growth of their corporate information.
Executives say that keeping critical information dispersed outside the data center, where they can't easily access and manage it, affects customer service, lowers productivity, and hurts their company's ability to compete. John Webster, director of IT consulting at the Yankee Group, said, "We see a very strong trend toward consolidated storage for proprietary, UNIX, and NT-based servers. Businesses are centralizing their critical information so it can be properly managed and protected."
Commercial Internet System 2.0
Microsoft plans to release a beta version of Microsoft Commercial Internet System (MCIS) 2.0 early this year. MCIS is a suite of services that provides major Internet services for large-scale and high-volume use. Microsoft targets MCIS at Internet Service Providers (ISPs), telephone companies, and other network service companies that support Internet services for large numbers of users.
At least part of MCIS 2.0 beta is already available. Microsoft has just released its new Internet Connection Service for Remote Access Service, Commercial Edition (ICS for RAS/CE), which provides enhancements to RAS and Virtual Private Network (VPN) software. Microsoft is offering the new ICS for RAS/CE as an upgrade to the basic edition; the component requires Windows NT 4.0 and the NT Option Pack. The commercial edition adds specific features to let ISPs provide custom outsourced management and infrastructure for a corporation's VPN, most notably Internet Authentication Server Commercial Edition (RADIUS Server and RADIUS Proxy Server) and interfaces to multiple database backends.
New Charges for IP Addresses
Hey, Buddy, wanna buy an IP address? Network Solutions runs InterNIC, the organization charged with managing domain names and IP addresses in the US. Network Solutions is spinning off a separate business for assigning IP addresses, and for the first time, you must pay for those addresses.
Network Solutions formed the new business, the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), after consulting with the government and deciding to separate IP address issues from domain name issues. Network Solutions' contract to manage domain name registrations ends in March. Industry watchers predict that in March many firms will compete to provide domain name registration services, ending Network Solutions' monopoly over the .com, .edu, .gov, and .net top-level domains. In addition, many more top-level domains (e.g., .web, .corp, and .inc) will likely surface.
ARIN will charge for IP addresses, even though it is a nonprofit organization, but ARIN says it will cover only its costs of operation. According to ARIN, it won't charge current address holders, but it will charge ISPs and other companies requesting new addresses. Fees will range from $2500 to $20,000 per year for ISPs, and from $2500 to $10,000 for other businesses, depending on the number of addresses they require.
ARIN states that the fees are low enough that ISPs won't feel compelled to pass the cost along to the end user, but industry experts doubt that statement. Some analysts predict that ISPs will increase rates or itemize surcharges during 1998.
IS in 1998
At 1997's end, International Data Corporation (IDC) released a barrage of interesting predictions for 1998. One prediction is that this year Microsoft will announce a non-Windows platform for the network appliance market. (Network appliances are devices such as WebTV that simplify and reduce the cost of accessing the Web.) Furthermore, IDC foresees that Netscape and Oracle might merge this year. Here are 10 other IDC predictions:
- The Web will edge toward 100 million users, and Web commerce will exceed $20 billion.
- The Web will finally reach mass-market proportions in the US, with nearly 25 percent of households online.
- Information appliances and suppliers will invade what was traditionally the PC market, challenging PC unit volumes in 3 to 5 years.
- PC suppliers will target the consumer market, offering $500 to $700 PCs and appliances; the business-centered PC model will die.
- Intel will launch a major non-Pentium chip business targeted at appliances.
- Microsoft will win its battle with the Department of Justice.
- The era of megabit consumer Internet access will begin (goodbye, ISDN), as telephone companies' digital subscriber lines challenge cable companies.
- Internet Service Providers' (ISPs') power will grow; IS customers' ISP choice will affect the outcome of key market battles (e.g., UNIX vs. Windows NT).
- Key Internet technologies for 1998 will include digital certificates, thin software, Web sound, and language translation.
- The scramble for new customers will drive megamergers in 1998.
You can review predictions on IDC's Web site (http://www.idc.com/f/ei/gens16.htm).
Do You Need SQL Server, Enterprise Edition 6.5?
Microsoft released the much-awaited SQL Server, Enterprise Edition 6.5 in January. (It was originally supposed to ship in the third quarter of 1997.) With an entry-level price of $7999 for a 25-user license ($10,999 for a 50-user license and $28,999 for a 250-user license), SQL Server, Enterprise Edition 6.5 offers better symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) support; it scales beyond today's quad systems to 8-way systems in the retail product and up to 32-way systems in OEM offerings. It supports up to 3GB of RAM and offers more intuitive natural language database queries using a beefed-up Microsoft Query.
SQL Server, Enterprise Edition 6.5 supports two-node failover (Phase 1 of Microsoft Cluster Server--MSCS, formerly code-named Wolfpack). Both machines can run different applications simultaneously; if either machine fails, the other picks up all applications. The next version of SQL clustering relies on Windows NT 5.0's ship date and will support MSCS Phase 2. In this phase, you can cluster up to 16 servers so that they share resources and balance the workload.
Microsoft also announced that the SQL Server 8-processor achieved 14,501 tpmC @$78.73/tpmC on the Transaction Processing Council (TPC)-C benchmark. Microsoft ran the test on an 8-processor Northbridge NX801 server from Axil Computer.
Aircraft Trays Not Magnetized
Rumors circulated last fall that some aircraft tray tables (specifically, those on Sabena Airlines) are magnetized and, therefore, are hazardous to laptop computers. Not true, say representatives of Sabena Airlines and the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Here is IATA's official statement:
"Unsubstantiated reports have been circulating recently claiming that the tray tables in the seats of Sabena A340 aircraft are magnetized and have been responsible for corrupting the disk drives of laptops. IATA wishes to emphasize that it does not and never has supported such a claim. It has now received confirmation from the seat manufacturer, the airline, and the aircraft manufacturer that these seats do not include any magnetic devices and therefore cannot inflict any damage to electronic equipment."