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September 22, 1998

TANDEM EMBARKS ON SHIFT FROM MIPS CHIP TO ALPHA

By CBR Staff Writer

Compaq Computer Corp’s Tandem division has embarked on what it says is a significant porting effort to move its NonStop Kernel operating system from the MIPS chip over to Alpha. Last week the division announced its decision to use the Alpha chip for future Tandem Himalaya S-Series servers, rather than Intel Corp’s forthcoming IA64 Merced. Held hostage to the vagaries of Merced’s development schedule, Tandem was not very far forward on its work to port NonStop to Merced, a task it began in the early days of the Compaq acquisition (CI No 3,282). But Pauline Nist, Tandem’s senior vice president of products and technology, said that although Merced delays had been one factor in Tandem’s decision to move instead to Alpha, the main reason was that it would be able to work more closely with the Alpha development team, now also a part of Compaq since the acquisition of Digital Equipment Corp. Compilers supporting 64-bit operations are already in place for Alpha, enabling Tandem to get on with the task of debugging its code straight away. Tandem has already ported NonStop from its original proprietary chips over to MIPS, so it isn’t too worried about that side of the process. The hardest task is to maintain object code compatibility, something it achieved last time by writing an object code translator and an accelerator for further optimization. This time it’s helped by the availability of DEC’s FX!32 translation technology. DEC, once a MIPS user itself, has already developed versions of FX!32 that move code over from MIPS to Alpha, and Tandem says it will look at that technology to see what it can learn and use. Tandem aims to provide a field upgrade to the Alpha EV7 chip, probably some time late in 2001 or early in 2002. That’s why object code compatibility is so important – users won’t want to change their existing databases and applications for a board swap. The EV7 is due to sample early in 2000, and Tandem says it will need another 12 to 15 months after that to prepare the system. It says it chose the Alpha EV7, with its integrated design and on-board memory controller, as a good starting point for the new systems, as it is so early in its lifecycle. Beyond that it will introduce machines designed for Alpha from the ground up. Between now and then, Nist promises two, maybe three speed-ups using the MIPS chip, along with caching enhancements and the upgrade to ServerNet2, the next generation of Tandem’s interconnect technology. The older K Series, which never made the upgrade to ServerNet, will not be developed further. Tandem promises a clarification of the future of its MIPS-based Integrity Unix line within 30 days but the indications are that those machines, confined to the telecommunications market, will make the shift to Intel rather than Alpha. Meanwhile, Compaq itself is working on dual and quad processor Alpha servers and an Alpha-based Professional Workstation 1000XP Monet workstation, while the DEC division continues to produce its current line of Unix and VMS-based Alpha hardware.

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