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Crash-free with a cash guarantee

Stratus Technologies has begun a $100,000 guarantee that basic components of its servers won't fail, but the company plans to extend the program to higher-level software as well.

Stratus Technologies has begun a $100,000 guarantee that basic components of its servers won't fail, but the company plans to extend the program to higher-level software as well.

Maynard, Mass.-based Stratus Technologies makes Windows servers that use redundant hardware components and carefully written software to ensure that its computers don't crash. On Monday, the company began a program to pay customers $100,000 if their system has to be shut down.

There are caveats, though. The program covers a version of the Stratus ft6500 running Windows 2000 Advanced Server, using triple-redundant processors and covered by Stratus' Business Critical ftService. And the deal involves only failures in hardware or the operating system.

The company plans to extend the program, though. "I expect some point not too far in the future we'll expand this program to a select set" of software companies, said Jim Gargan, senior vice president of marketing. Gargan took the post at Stratus after leaving IBM, where he had been in charge of marketing for Big Blue's lower-end Intel servers.

Other software companies "are prepared to join," Gargan said. "This is just the start of what will be a real high-availability road map."

In the 1990s, many were convinced that the market power of Microsoft and Intel would mean Windows servers would sweep aside competing Unix systems. The process has gone more slowly, however, as Microsoft has grappled with security issues and challenges making its software work on multiprocessor systems.

Windows is steadily improving, though, and niche companies such as Stratus as well as bigger names, such as IBM, Dell Computer and Hewlett-Packard, are designing more reliable systems. And Microsoft is encouraging hardware companies to adopt Stratus' practices when writing the "driver" software that computers use to communicate with peripherals such as video cards or hard disks.

Getting the $100,000 guarantee isn't free, of course. The ft6500 costs about $150,000 for a four-processor model (which actually uses 12 processors with the triple redundancy). About 10 percent to 20 percent of customers typically choose triple redundancy over double redundancy, Gargan said. On top of that price tag, the Business Critical Service program costs about $25,000 to $30,000 per year.

Stratus developed the four-processor version of its "fault tolerant" ft line. NEC developed a two-processor version that both companies sell, with NEC paying Stratus royalties under a partnership.