Tech Industry

HP upgrades high-end Windows server

Hewlett-Packard doubles the processing horsepower of a top-end Windows server, hoping to upstage an upcoming product from competitor Stratus.

Hewlett-Packard has upgraded a top-end Windows server, hoping to upstage an upcoming product from competitor Stratus.

With the new NetServer AA 6200, HP has doubled the processing horsepower of its "assured availability" line, which is designed to crash far less frequently than ordinary servers.

HP cut a multimillion-dollar deal a year ago to use technology from a company called Marathon to cut crashes of Windows servers. The original products had the processing horsepower of a single-processor server; the current expands that to two, said Calvin Nieh, product manager for the new server.

But following closely on the heels of Marathon and HP is Stratus, which has its own comparatively crashproof design due to arrive in September.

Both servers are technologically unusual designs that typify the increasing sophistication of servers built on Intel chips and the Windows operating system. Those servers, once glorified desktop computers, are gradually taking on more sophisticated features formerly reserved for expensive Unix or mainframe servers from IBM, Sun Microsystems, HP, Compaq and a handful of other companies.

The Marathon method splits a single server into four parts, each with its own processor. The first is for handling computing, the second for communicating with networks and hard disks, and the third and fourth back up the first two in case of failure. Splitting the system into separate components reduces crashes by making sure the software that talks to peripherals doesn't step on the toes of the software handling the server's primary workload.

The Stratus design uses a different approach. Instead of splitting the system into independent pieces, it avoids crashes by combining carefully vetted software with backup chips, network cards, memory and every other component.

Both companies' models are designed to keep on functioning despite problems that would cause lesser servers to crash. These techniques provide higher availability than another method, "failover clustering," which lets one server take over for another. Clustering is used by Compaq, HP, Dell, IBM and others, but its disadvantage is that the handoff takes a minimum of a few seconds and often more than a minute.

IBM has pushed the price of a low-end clustered system below $20,000, while Cobalt Networks, Red Hat, VA Linux Systems and TurboLinux are working on cluster software for Linux systems.

Both systems come with extensive support plans in which their manufacturers will help keep a close eye on system performance to catch problems before they bring a system down and to help repair it quickly if it does fail, the companies said.

Price is one area where the HP and Stratus servers will duke it out. Typical versions of the Stratus machine are expected to cost between $30,000 and $75,000, whereas the typical HP machines will cost between $90,000 and $100,000.

Another difference is processing horsepower. The Stratus design has the equivalent power of a four-processor system, whereas the HP has only two-processor muscle.

However, the HP design can be split into two halves separated by as much as half a kilometer, providing a measure of protection against disasters such as fires or floods. In addition, HP is experienced in Windows servers, while Stratus is just getting started.

The new HP server currently comes with Windows NT but will be able to run its sequel, Windows 2000, by year's end. HP will continue to sell the server's predecessor, the NetServer AA 4000, but won't ever sell it with Windows 2000, Nieh said.