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Eight-way Takes a Body Blow

After a swift rise and successful reign, it's the end of an era for eight-way x86-architecture servers.

Not long ago the eight-processor server represented the pinnacle of Windows scalability. The eight-way ushered Windows NT 4.0 into the rarified top 10 of the closely watched OLTP benchmark, the TPC-C. Later, a cluster of eight-ways running Windows 2000 and SQL Server 2000 held the top spot on the same benchmark for months.

In the real world, the eight-way anchored some of the biggest Microsoft-based databases. Microsoft cracked the most recent Winter Corp. survey of the 10 largest production databases in late 2003. The servers running the 5.3TB, 33-billion-row Verizon Communications database weren't on some behemoth like the 32-processor Unisys ES7000. The database ran on a cluster of Compaq ProLiant eight-ways.

HP ProLiant DL580 G3
With dual-core processors coming, HP expects four-way servers like the new HP ProLiant DL580 G3 to fill the niche currently occupied by eight-ways.

The eight-way server took what is probably its death blow in March when Hewlett-Packard disclosed plans to discontinue the line in mid-2006. Dell bowed out of the eight-way market in July 2003. HP's move is especially telling, as the Compaq ProLiant brand it inherited was the flagship of the eight-way market.

Dell's decision came as the cost-conscious company shifted away from the engineering-intensive design of SMP chipsets toward smaller, commodity servers. Dell favors two-way servers that function well as nodes in scale-out computing environments.

The other x86 server industry giant, IBM, continues to sell eight-processor machines. Like Unisys, which also offers eight-ways, IBM's eight-ways are a step in a modular server system that can scale from four processors all the way up to 32. When HP stops selling its eight-ways, this era of distinct eight-way x86 units will be over.

But it's out with the old, in with the new. HP announced the shutdown of the ProLiant eight-way line as it brought up two new servers based on Intel's "Truland" platform.

Truland includes a chipset and processors that will support 64-bit extensions and dual-core processors for the Xeon Processor MP line of chips designed for four-way and larger systems. The 64-bit extension technology is available in current chips. The first dual-core chip for Truland, dubbed "Paxville," will be available in the first quarter of 2006.

"With the emergence of dual-core processors in the four-processor x86 market … HP will satisfy the vast majority of current eight-way performance requirements with four-processor, eight-core ProLiant servers," says Colin Lacey, director of platform marketing for Industry Standard Servers at HP.

The eight-way could mount a comeback someday if the scale of 64-bit applications somehow explodes or if multi-core technology flops.

Most likely, though, the need for these SMP systems will fade as the number of cores per processor multiplies.

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