Soft ICP: PC & Linux Hardware

The Future Has Always Been Linux.

Netframe: Sweet, Sweet Client-Server Mastery.

An oldie but a serious goodie.

How do you bring UNIX client-server applications to Novell NetWare networks? In the past, users have had two alternatives: run Portable NetWare (now called NetWare for UNIX) on a UNIX server, or have separate servers on the net running NetWare and UNIX. The first way is slow; the second, expensive. Now, NetFrame Systems offers a new approach: a multi-processor server that runs NetWare on one processor and UNIX on the others. NetFrame went public in June, the first “superserver” company to do so. I recently visited the firm in Milpitas, CA, to observe its innovative architecture. What I saw could well become a mainstream solution for UNIX on Novell networks.

NetFrame was rounded by Carl Amdahl, son of Amdahl Corp. founder, Gene Amdahl. The younger Amdahl, quite literally, learned mainframe architecture design at his father’s knee. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Carl rounded two suppliers of large-scale systems: Magnuson and Trilogy. (Magnuson enjoyed a successful IPO; Trilogy was a huge debacle.) He rounded NetFrame in 1987. Inspired by the IBM System/370, NetFrame reduced the I/O channel and other elements of mainframe architecture to VLSI and adapted them to an Intel processor. The resulting file server has very high I/O throughput while running standard shrink-wrapped NetWare or OS/2 LAN Manager.

In addition to this main “file server” processor, a NetFrame can have up to four application processors, also Intel. The file server and application processors are like independent file and application servers on a network, with a key difference: they communicate not through the network, but through shared memory. Thus, application requests to the file server can be made much faster than they would between conventional servers. Adding UNIX servers “on the net” becomes a simple matter of adding processor boards.

Univel UnixWare, SunSoft Solaris 2.0, and NetWare with NetWare Loadable Modules (NLMs) can be run on the application processors. As many as four copies of UNIX and/or NetWare may be run concurrently.

The NetFrame approach will be attractive to end users who want to bring UNIX applications to NetWare environments. It will also allow UNIX ISVs to address the NetWare market without having to convert UNIX applications into NetWare’s proprietary NLM format. NetFrame servers are available today with NetWare or 0S/2 LAN Manager. The two flavors of UNIX will be available next year.


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