IBM Corp’s cranking up the performance of its parallel processing SP system, the one outright success in its otherwise under- performing RS/6000 division. Although for a long time IBM’s SP was thought to be way ahead of competitive technology from the likes of Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems and Silicon Graphics, each now claims to be making up ground on SP, especially in the area of 64-bit computing, where IBM currently has not disclosed a plan for the SP. Yesterday the company added six new multiprocessing PowerPC 604e RS/6000 node options for its SP customers. It claims the 200MHz 604e systems offer 58% more performance, support twice as much main memory – up to 4Gb – and three times the amount of disk storage support per node as previous systems. They come in two-to-eight way ‘wide node’ (SMP) models and include 16 Micro Channel Architecture slots. A new AIX 4.2.1 cut of the HACMP High Availability Cluster Multiprocessing software now enables clusters of up to 16 nodes to be supported on SP – a 32-way re-write by mid-1998 with 64-way support to follow. An AIX 3.2 version of PSSP Parallel Systems Support Programs can support up to 64 SMP nodes, while a GPFS general parallel file system is said to offer faster file access from any node. The company is tight-lipped about how and when SP users will be able to do 64-bit processing. We learned last week that the RS/6000 group has trashed its original notion to develop high-performance compute systems based upon the misbegotten PowerPC 620 CPU. SP executives say they won’t use the 64-bit PowerPC 625 ‘Apache’ chip that RS/6000 is using in new commercial AIX servers, because it doesn’t deliver the kind of technical application performance SP users require. However they weren’t able to say what exactly it will do for 64-bit computing now, but promise to have a new plan of action in place in time for the launch of the RS/6000 Apache systems on October 9th.
Traditionally SP has had to wait for new hardware and software technologies to be tried and tested on conventional RS/6000 workstations and servers before being converted to run on its parallel systems – just like the new 604e node options – but beginning next year the group says it’ll start to show a little independence by introducing new technology first on SP – or at least in conjunction with RS/6000s. First of all it’s going to add that long-awaited High Performance Gateway Node (CI No 2,990), which, built by a third party, will act as a network concentrator enabling multiple data streams to be received and to take network strain from individual system nodes. New technology will also enable disk storage to be attached directly to processor buses. By the middle of next year SP nodes will be able to scale to 32 and later 64 SMP nodes using a re-written version of the company’s HACMP High Availability Cluster Multiprocessing software. PCI nodes will be supported next year although SP’s 150Mbps switch won’t get tweaked until later, using technology derived from IBM’s ASCII research labs project. The previously identified S-COMA distributed shared memory topology is still way out and the company’s currently investigating how SP technologies can be applied to its other server group products. It denies the competition, Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard and Silicon Graphics, have caught up with SP. It claims it’s still two years ahead of Sun on scaling and HACMP software. Nevertheless IBM’s Unix rivals are sure to capitalize IBM’s latest PowerPC 620 woes.
In the first half of this year IBM says it shipped 76% more SPs than in the same period in 1996 – around 700 systems – bringing the installed base up to nearly 3,000 systems. The 2,200 customers it had at the end of 1996 had 22,000 nodes between them, each one a specially-configured RS/6000 uniprocessor or SMP AIX system which are used as the building blocks for SP. IBM says 19% of its SP customers are using the systems for high-end web serving, 19% for transaction processing and 16% for decision support and data mining. It’s also attracting more commercial customers, which now make up 75% of the base. 31% of sales are upgrades, 61% new business. The majority are one-to-six node systems. It says 25% of SP business is going through partners and it’s spent much time building the channel.