Mid
Windows & Linux Edition
Volume 1, Number 30 -- September 11, 2002

NEC Shows 32-Way Windows Server with Unix-Class Oomph


by Timothy Prickett Morgan

As part of the festivities surrounding this week's Intel Developer Forum, Japanese server marker NEC took the wraps off of a 32-way server running Microsoft's forthcoming "Whistler" Windows .NET Server 2003 version of Datacenter Server and based on the "McKinley" Itanium 2 processor. To put it bluntly, the TPC-C online transaction processing benchmarking result puts the Wintel platform solidly and indisputably in the same power class as the enterprise Unix and proprietary platforms that have been ahead of Windows since Windows NT 3.1 debuted in August 1993.


The NEC TX7 series of computers are based on the "AzusA" chipset that the company created for the Itanium family of 64-bit processors from Intel. A 16-way version of the AzusA machines debuted with the 733MHz and 800MHz "Merced" Itaniums, the first generation of 64-bit chips from Intel. These 16-way servers were sold by NEC in Japan and by Hewlett-Packard in North America and Europe running HP's HP-UX 11i variant of the Unix operating system or the open source Linux operating system. According to HP at the time they were launched last summer, the 16-way Azusa servers were rated at about 140,000 transactions per minute on the TPC-C test (this is an estimate, not an actual benchmark result) and at about 51 gigaflops (that's billions of floating point operations per second). That puts the first generation of AzusA servers in the same power class as the most powerful Unix and proprietary servers (such as IBM's AS/400-iSeries line and its S/390 and zSeries mainframe line) of early 2000, when Unix machines with 24 or 32 processors were able to hit around 150,000 TPM.

Intel said that servers using the Itanium 2 processors should yield between 1.5 and 2 times the performance of servers using the original Itaniums because of various improvements in the chip. It is hard to say whether or not this is the case with the NEC TX7/AsuzA servers, since NEC has not shown a like-for-like comparison. The original 16-way machines that got that 140,000 TPM estimated rating were running HP-UX and the eponymous database from Oracle, not the future 64-bit and NUMA-enabled versions of Windows .NET Server 2003 Datacenter Edition and SQL Server 2000. The Azusa machines tested this week also had 32 processors instead of 16 in the early generation. Based on very skinny Intel estimates, you might think that an AzusA server with 16 1GH Itanium 2 processors should be able to handle between 200,000 and 250,000 TPM running Unix, and with 32 processors, maybe as much as 300,000 or 350,000 TPM. You might also guess that Windows .NET Server would be able to perform somewhere a little less than at this level, given its relative inexperience with high-end SMP scaling, unlike Unix, which has been scaling up to this number of processors for around five years or so, depending on the platform.

That would be a pretty good guess. NEC's test results on the 32-way TX7 server, which supports HP-UX and Linux today and will support Windows .NET Server 2003 by the end of the year, posted an impressive 308,621 TPM on the TPC-C test at a cost of $14.96 per TPM. That NEC TX7 server was equipped with Itanium 2 chips with 3 MB L3 caches, 256 GB of main memory, and 23.6 TB of disk capacity. That server cost around $1.4 million, including the license for Datacenter Server 2003, and the storage cost just under $2 million. SQL Server cost another $529,312, and client hardware and three years of support brought the total cost to $5.3 million, a figure that dropped to $4.6 million after a 13 percent discount. This is Unix-class performance at a substantial price break compared to Unix.

For instance, HP just announced that its 64-way Superdome server using PA-8700+ processors using 875MHz chips and running on HP-UX and Oracle9i could crank through 423,414 TPM at a cost of $15.64 per TPM. That machine had 256 GB of main memory and 15 TB of disk capacity. However, that Superdome server and its storage cost over $9.1 million, Oracle cost nearly $1.3 million, and the whole shebang cost around $12.6 million at list price. It was only after a staggering 44 percent discount that HP could get the cost of the Superdome configuration down to the $15.64 per TPM price/performance rating. You can bet that upgrades on Superdome machines are not discounted at this level, that's for sure. Similarly, IBM's 32-way pSeries 690 "Regatta-H" server using 1.3 GHz Power4 processors was able to handle 403,255 TPM on the TPC-C test when equipped with AIX 5L 5.2 and Oracle9i on a machine rigged with 256 GB of main memory and 20 TB of disk capacity. The server and storage in this Regatta-H box cost $11.3 million, and Oracle cost another $1.5 million. The total price tag for the TPC-C n-tier network under test came to $15.8 million. Like HP, IBM offered a big discount on this Regatta-H configuration to show better bang for the buck, in this case a 49 percent discount. Just try to get that price on a Regatta-H upgrade and see how far you get with IBM.

With the same level of discounting as the NEC 32-way AzusA box using Itanium 2 processors, the HP machine delivers about $26 per TPM and the IBM machine yields about $34 per TPM. This is obviously not as good price/performance as what the NEC box is delivering, not by a long shot. The fact that the HP box has twice as many processors as the NEC machine, yet only delivers 37 percent more performance, is something that will weigh heavily on daring customers who want to move to big Wintel iron, since application software and middleware is often priced on a per-processor basis these days. And here's an even funnier thought: if Intel could crank up the clock speed on the Itanium 2 processor to the same 1.3 GHz that IBM is using for the Power4 chips in the Regatta-H machines and if the AzusA chipset and its crossbar switch could deliver the bandwidth, then the AzusA machine running Windows and SQL Server would be able to hit about 400,000 TPM--the same, more or less, as the Regatta-H machine. To say that Microsoft and Intel are turning up the heat on the Unix vendors is an understatement. There is a reason why HP is throwing in the towel on PA-RISC and concentrating on making chipsets and Itanium-based servers.

Up until now, the TX7 server line from NEC has been an obscure product that was only aimed at technical computing customers. The company started shipping the 16-way TX7/i9010 and the 32-way TX7/i9510 at the end of August, and plans to ship the eight-way TX7/i6010 and 16-way TX7/i6510 in the fourth quarter. Both the 900MHz and 1GHz versions of the Itanium 2 processors are available in the TX7 line. These machines will offer differing numbers of slots and memory expansion. It is unclear if HP will be selling them or not, since it has its own chipsets under development.


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TABLE OF CONTENTS
NEC Shows 32-Way Windows Server with Unix-Class Oomph

Intel Talks Up Technologies at IDF, Previews Madison Itaniums

Microsoft to Support Multipath I/O in Wintel Servers

inFORM Decisions Launches Document Management for Windows



Editor
Timothy Prickett Morgan

Managing Editor
Mari Barrett

Contributing Editors
Dan Burger
Joe Hertvik
Shannon O'Donnell
Victor Rozek
Hesh Wiener
Alex Woodie

Publisher and
Advertising Director

Jenny Thomas

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Last Updated: 9/11/02
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