Bull Beefs Up NovaScale Itanium Servers
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
French server maker Groupe Bull has announced that it has fleshed out it Itanium-based NovaScale server line, which offers support for Linux and Windows operating systems as well as Bull's own GCOS 8 proprietary environment. The NovaScale machines were announced in March 2003 amidst a long line of restructurings and government bailouts, and have been enhanced as the French company tries to adjust to the harsh realities of today's server market.
Back in March 2003, Bull announced the NovaScale 4040, 5080, and 5160 servers, which support 4, 8, and 16 of Intel's Itanium 2 processors. These initial machines ranged in price from 25,000 to 95,000 euros in base configurations, and ran SuSE Linux 8 (now owned by Novell) and Microsoft's Windows Advanced Server Limited Edition for the Itaniums. The four-way cell boards in the NovaScale machines were based on Intel's own E8870 chipsets, and Bull's own Flexible Architecture for Multiple Environments (FAME) and its FAME Scalability Switch to glue the four-way boards into a single system image using NUMA-like clustering. In September 2003, Bull delivered its GCOS 8 proprietary environment on a special version of the NovaScale called the 9080. This machine is an eight-way that allows up to four of the processors and 4 GB of main memory in the box to be used to support GCOS 8; the remaining processing capacity can run Linux or Windows. These machines became available in November 2003, and pricing started at 110,000 euros.
In the latest round of NovaScale announcements, Bull is introducing two new 9000 Series machines, one that spans 16 processors (the 9160) and another that spans 32 processors (the 9320). These machines can be carved up into virtual eight-way machines using hardware partitioning developed by Bull, and then within those eight-way partitions, one or two partitions can be dedicated to running GCOS 8. (For you history buffs, GCOS is a fork off the Multics operating system from the late 1960s, with Unix being the other fork; it was created by the mainframe unit of General Electric.) The remaining processors can be used to support Linux or Windows. Bull says that it will be working to give GCOS customers more performance and better bang for the buck in the future, which might mean the "Madison" 9MB chip due later this year and the dual-core "Montecito" Itaniums due next year. Or, it might mean that Bull is actually going to extend the SMP scalability of GCOS as well, which seems like something that customers would probably appreciate. Bull says that the entry NovaScale 9160 with a single GCOS processor activated sells for 100,000 euros.
In addition to enhancing the GCOS-capable machines, Bull also launched a new line of NovaScale machines, the 6000 Series. The 6080, 6160, and 6320 machines support 8, 16, and 32 Itanium 2 processors, respectively. The machines can support up to 256 GB of main memory and up to 3.1 TB of internal disk storage. The NovaScale 5000s can be upgraded to the 6000 Series, which is bound to make customers who just ponied up money for one of these machines within the past year happy. A NovaScale 6080 with four Itanium processors, 4 GB of main memory, and six 36 GB disks costs 100,000 euros. Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition and Datacenter Edition are supported on these boxes, as are the Itanium versions of Linux distributions from Red Hat and Novell.