COMPUTERS that run many microprocessors are rarer - although much faster - than one-microprocessor machines. Now, this technology is moving out of the laboratory and into the mainstream, thanks to the introduction of new software.
This week, multiprocessor technology got a further nudge into the corporate world. Thinking Machines Corporation of Cambridge, Mass., announced that its MPP (massively parallel processor) computers will be able to run Oracle software, a widely used database program. The company also is offering new programs that speed up specific database queries on multiprocessor computers.
``A couple years ago, we decided to sell into the commercial market,'' says John Mucci, vice president of Thinking Machines' new business systems group. First, the company sold to petroleum companies, which were trying to solve highly technical problems. The next logical step, he says, is for the company to sell to corporations with common business problems, such as managing databases.
Thinking Machines is not alone in its push. Other multiprocessor machines run Oracle and database query software. IBM has multiprocessor machines that run its traditional minicomputer operating system.
The key is software. Analysts say multiprocessor technology will break into the mainstream when there are enough standard programs that businesses can use right out of the box.
Up to now, MPP technology has only been for the adventurous. Users have often had to modify their programs extensively to run on these computers. A corporate programmer could take a year to make the conversion, costing the company as much as $125,000. If the company has several programs, converting the software could easily cost more than the computer.
It is not clear whether the current announcements are enough to win over corporate America. Christopher Willard, manager of high-performance technologies for International Data Corporation, a market research and consulting firm in Framingham, Mass., says a moderate scenario would have the MPP market growing at about 22.5 percent a year through 1997. If things go very well, the market might grow closer to 35 percent a year.
But ``I don't believe in 35 percent growth rates,'' he says.