Network Initiatives – They Come And Go

Manufacturers representing close to 75 per cent market share of the Intel server market took the wraps off the first products with built-in support for an initiative that boosts performance and scalability in their systems here at Networld+ Interop.

The initiative, called Intelligent Input/Output, or I2O, has been used in mainframes and high-end proprietary servers for several years.

"I think the industry is going to see some significant changes and performance gains but it could take another two years before that reaches the level end-users really want out of I2O," said James Gruener, an analyst at the Boston, Mass.-based consultancy Aberdeen Group. "They will start to take another bite out of the mid-range Unix market but nothing is going to happen overnight here."

The "linchpin" for hardware vendors, Gruener added, will be support from network operating systems, which is only slated to begin gradually appearing by the end of this year or mid-1998.

Microsoft Corp. is expected to add support for the architecture in Windows NT 4.0 by the end of this year and has announced that NT 5.0, slated for release in mid-1998, will include I2O support, while Novell Corp.s NetWare 4.11 is already compliant and will have software upgrades available by the end of this year.

Novell is also expected to expand the technology in the next version of IntranetWare, code-named Moab, scheduled for release by mid-1998.

The Santa Cruz Operations (SCO) next generation Unix operating system, code-named Gemini, will also support part of the architecture, while other operating systems, including HP-UX and SunSoft's Solaris, are all expected to offer similar support in future OS releases.

Speaking at a press conference here, Ron Smith, vice-president and general manager of the computing enhancement group at Intel Corp. in Chandler Ariz., said the combination of I2O and dedicated intelligent I/O processors, such as Intel's i960, will offer end-users higher I/O throughput, improved scalability and a single set of device drivers that are operating system independent.

"The key thing we're really doing is bringing mainframe class I/O to Intel servers at a much lower price point," Smith added.

"There's been a lot of talk in the industry up to this point but what we're here to say now is that the products are here, they're live and every single supplier is going to be shipping within 90 days."

IBM Corp., which will be one of the first of those suppliers out of the gate, demonstrated two clustered Netfinity 7000 servers running Lotus Notes Domino, coupled with Xpoint Technolgies I2O LAN software for Windows NT and IBM's own I2O-compliant Arctic LAN adapter.

Compaq Computer Corp. also ran demonstrations using a built-in I2O-ready connector to run a controller card equipped with the Intel i960 processor and announced plans to implement the technology in three different ways across its entire line of enterprise server products.

Hewlett-Packard Co. announced an I2O disk-array controller card that the company said is expected to provide an average of 80 per cent performance improvements measured in transaction per second and also unveiled plans to extend the I2O technology across its entire line of HP 9000 enterprise servers. Packard Bell NEC Inc., also announced plans to support the architecture with its Express5800 HX and Express5800 server models by next January, while AST Corp. announced it will add I2O-ready Ethernet and SCSI RAID controllers as a standard feature to its recently announced Premium HS Server.

"I would say we'll definitely see some gains when it comes to storage backup, response times for end-users and some gains in the number of clients that can be supported," Gruener said.

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