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Early Multiprocessing: A Killer App

mpgWhile lack of software support for multiprocessing has deterred buyers from investing in expensive multiprocessing servers, Schatt and other analysts forecast better days ahead. The proliferation and expansion of LANs and the demands of the mission-critical applications running on them will spur buyers and advance the market over the long run, they said.

“I think the important factor is to look at the big picture. Downsizing [and] enterprise networking [are] definitely going to be a force,” Schatt said. “Probably 1994 will be the year of the super server. We’ll see significant growth in 1993 and 1994.”

According to Schatt, overly optimistic expectations have contributed to the perception that the market has not fulfilled its promise. Market researchers had estimated a $600 million to $700 million market by now, Schatt said, “and it’s not. It’s a $400 million market.”

The sagging economy is one reason for sluggish growth in super servers. Many who might otherwise have bought multiprocessor servers, which generally cost tens of thousands of dollars, have postponed their purchases, Schatt said.

But the key problem, most analysts agree, is the lack of network operating system software, particularly a multiprocessing version of Novell Inc.’s NetWare. With currently available versions of NetWare, only one CPU can be employed.

“The software-compatibility issues are going to be the inhibiting factor,” said Christopher Goodhue, a senior industry analyst at Gartner Group Inc., a market-research firm in Stamford, Conn.

“There just isn’t a lot of support out there for multiprocessing — with the exception of Unix,” Goodhue said.

The timing of an economic upturn is anybody’s guess, but the software solutions may be at hand.

The expected 1993 arrivals of NetWare 4.0 and Windows NT, both purported to support multiprocessing, should stimulate multiprocessor-server sales, according to analysts.

The growing number of corporations moving from mainframe and minicomputer environments down to LANs will drive greater demand for multiprocessor servers, analysts said.

On the hardware side, super servers allow corporations to streamline their networks.

“You can now consolidate four or five or six LANs, each of which is running on a separate PC server, into a super server,” said Jim Edwards, president of Tricord Systems Inc. in Plymouth, Minn.

“It’s a lot less labor-intensive to have one person administer a super server than to administer four or five or six servers,” said Edwards.

Eric Johnson, manager of hardware marketing at NetFrame Systems Inc., a super-server manufacturer in Milpitas, Calif., also cites LAN consolidation as an impetus for server sales.

“People are beginning to recognize the benefits of super servers for simplifying their LANs. They’ve got too many servers; super servers are a way to reduce the cost and headaches of larger networks,” Johnson said.

On the software side, the mission-critical applications being ported from mainframes and minicomputers to LANs need more power and fault tolerance than traditional servers offer.

“When they write [those applications] for a LAN, they are going to need a powerful server,” Schatt said.

Goodhue at Gartner Group agreed. “Clearly, the number of connected PCs is substantial,” he said. “The number of LANs being bridged [and] the number of applications requiring sophisticated software is increasing.

” [They’re] going to need a better traffic cop and more powerful systems to handle those applications.”

And buyers are beginning to realize that need, said NetFrame’s Johnson. “The application market is really heating up where the fault tolerance of [super servers] is very attractive to buyers. It’s taken time for end users and LAN administrators to realize these systems are out, that they do solve problems,” he said.

Super-server maker Parallan Computer Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., aims its products more toward mission-critical applications than toward large LAN consolidations.

Davis Fields, vice president of marketing for the company –which IBM recently bought a stake in — said that is how Parallan distinguishes its multiprocessor products from the competition.

“The machine we’ve replaced most often since we started is [Digital Equipment Corp.’s] VAX. We’re very much focused on being midrange,” Fields said, adding that he thinks the other multiprocessor-server manufacturers are more appropriate to the PC level.

“They’re pursuing a path where they’re selling servers like PCs, at the departmental work-group level. We are calling on MIS managers,” Fields said.

Parallan’s competitors might disagree with that assessment, however, as does Schatt at InfoCorp. He said the multiprocessor-server manufacturers are all trying to appeal to the MIS level.

One obstacle to that effort is the small size and relative newness of some of the multiprocessor-server companies.

For example, Schatt said, some buyers are reluctant to commit their mission-critical applications to expensive servers from these firms.

“One of the problems [is] the concerns buyers have about these smaller companies: Will they be here when they’re needed?” Schatt said.

Fields at Parallan said some of his potential customers have expressed those reservations; that hesitation helped to fuel the deal with IBM.

“I’m asking people to think of me as a way to process true mission-critical applications,” he said.

“[Buyers] looked at the statistics about the success rates for startups, and despite the fact they thought the product is technologically superior, they said, `We’re going to have to think about it.'”

Big Blue’s presence has had a dramatic affect on Parallan’s sales, Fields said. “People we had been talking to for over a year came back to us even before the deal was signed, because they were confident because of ” IBM’s backing.

At first glance, price might also seem an inhibiting factor for buyers. But, according to Schatt, the manufacturers’ appeal to the MIS level will favorably affect how corporations view the investment costs of moving to super servers.

In the past, Schatt said, LAN managers have made the server-purchase decisions. LAN managers are likely to be put off by the higher price of super servers as compared with traditional PC servers. But this will not be the case with MIS managers, he said.

“When you have an MIS director who has been buying mainframes, he looks at the [price of the super servers], and it’s a bargain” compared with mainframes, Schatt said.

So, although base prices for the servers in general have come down in recent months, price won’t make or break the super-server market.

“Over the long run, prices are not going to be a major factor,” Schatt said. “As the economy starts to come back, you’re going to see the manufacturers turn more profitable.”

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