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Volume 4, Number 12 -- March 28, 2007

NEC, Stratus Preview Fault Tolerant Server with Quad Cores

Published: March 28, 2007

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

While server makers Stratus Technology and NEC have been partners in the development of similar but different fault tolerant machines running Windows or Linux that use Intel X86 and X64 processors for a number of years, today the companies are previewing a single, co-developed hardware platform that will be based on Intel's quad-core "Clovertown" Xeon 5300 processors.

While the Stratus ftServer 6200 and NEC Express5800/320Fc servers are essentially the same iron, the two companies support different operating systems, provide their own variants of systems management and monitoring software, and have their own channels for selling the product into the industries that prefer fault tolerant designs over high availability clustering.

With high availability clustering, two separate machines are equipped with two distinct operating systems and two sets of application software; clustering and data replication software enables applications to failover from a production machine to a backup box in the event that the production machine crashes. With a fault tolerant design, two physical servers are lashed together at their memory levels, not at the I/O buses, and they are logically a single machine, running mirrored copies of the same exact operating system and stack of software and processing precisely the same transactions; should one machine fail, end users never even know, since as far as they are concerned, there is no failover at all.

Tandem Computers was one of the big pioneers in the fault tolerant server market, and Stratus, in various incarnations, was the server maker nipping at its heels. (Tandem is now part of HP, where its founders came from.) The Tandem and Stratus fault tolerant machines from days gone by were proprietary and expensive, but very scalable. To help broaden the appeal of fault tolerant servers, Stratus and NEC have adopted Intel X86 and now X64 processors (and only relatively modest but absolutely mainstream two-socket servers) and moved to Windows and Linux operating systems.

The Stratus ftServer 6200 and NEC Express5800/320Fc machines are actually manufactured by NEC, but have substantial engineering coming from Stratus. The FT Crossbar is the secret sauce, which sits between processors and I/O subsystems and which crosslinks the components in two physical servers such that there is no single point of failure in the machine that can bring applications down.

The prior generation of machines from these two vendors was based on Intel's quasi dual-core "Paxville" Xeon processor, and the new box, by adopting the high-end Clovertown parts, can deliver anywhere from 2.5 to 3 times the performance of this older box according to Stratus and more than 2 times according to NEC. The Clovertown-based system uses the quasi quad-core Clovertown processor from Intel, which has a 1.3 GHz front side bus, faster main memory, and PCI-Express I/O, all of which contribute to the performance increase. Like the Paxville-based machine, the Clovertown machine is a two-socket box, which means it can have a total of eight processor cores (logical) to support workloads.

The fault tolerant server announced today by Stratus and NEC under their own monikers supports up to 24 GB of logical memory and up to three SAS or SATA disk drives. EMC's Symmetrix and Clariion disk arrays as well as Hewlett-Packard's EVA disks are supported as well for external storage.

Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition R2 and Red Hat's Enterprise Linux AS and ES 4 operating systems are supported. Windows support will come when the machine ships in June, to be followed by Red Hat support in the third quarter. For those who want virtualized environments, the two companies support Microsoft's Virtual Server 2005 and VMware's VMware Server and GSX Server; VMware's high-end ESX Server 2.X and Infrastructure 3 products are not supported because the memory lock stepping is not supported in the ESX Server hypervisor (but it could eventually). Support for the open source Xen hypervisor from XenSource is not supported yet, either.

According to Mike Mitsch, general manager of alliances at NEC Solutions America, NEC's North American server unit, NEC had planned to deliver a quad-socket fault tolerant server later this year based on Intel's "Tulsa" 7100 dual-core Xeon MP processors, but given the performance of the Clovertown box, this Tulsa-based machine has been dropped from the roadmap. "We're seeing more demand for a two-socket, multicore box," says Mitsch. And his counterpart at Stratus in Europe, Andy Bailey, echoes that sentiment. "Stratus did not have a four-socket box on its roadmap, and there is no demand for it at the moment," says Bailey.

Neither NEC or Stratus have any plans to create Opteron-based fault tolerant servers, and even though NEC makes a line of Itanium-based servers, there are no plans to bring fault tolerance to these machines, according to Mitsch. And it also seems unlikely, given the long time it takes to qualify various hardware to meet the five 9s availability requirements of a fault tolerant setup, that either company will go backward and support the dual-core "Woodcrest" Xeon 5100 processors. If customers need more clock speed, as opposed to cores, to support their workloads, that could change.

The Stratus ftServer 6200 and NEC Express5800/320Fc will be available in June, and neither vendor has set prices yet, but the companies are expecting to charge a slight premium over the Paxville box.


RELATED STORIES

Stratus Buys Emergent to Build Out Telecom Expertise

Stratus Picks Red Hat for Linux-Based Fault Tolerant Boxes

NEC Upgrades Windows Fault Tolerant Servers

Stratus Debuts First Fault-Tolerant Linux Server

Stratus Offers Free Upgrades to ftServer Customers

NEC Delivers Four-Way Fault Tolerant Windows Server



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