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IBM makes server "uptime" pledge

IBM will join a number of companies who back their Windows NT/Intel-based servers computers with a guarantee of 99.9 percent uptime.

IBM will join a number of companies which back their Windows NT/Intel-based server computers with a guarantee of 99.9 percent uptime.

Tomorrow, IBM will announce that certain configurations of its Netfinity 5500 M10 and 7000 M10 servers won't go down for more than nine hours a year. The program will begin on March 1 in the United States and be extended to other countries throughout 1999.

But Big Blue isn't the first to offer the guarantee.

In September 1998, Hewlett-Packard staked its claim to extraordinary reliability. Data General matched it in October, and Compaq followed suit in December.

As with many guarantees, however, it's a good idea to read the fine print.

Server manufacturers guaranteeing their machines to the nth degree restrict their offers to certain configurations, so they can make sure all the hardware and software works together well.

IBM, for example, requires a "cluster" of more than one NT machine, a Fibre Channel disk array, and American Power Conversion power protection equipment. Guaranteed systems also use technology that lets a second machine take over if one fails.

In addition, the backbone of the guarantee comes from hardware vendors' beefed-up on-site service.

To reach the uptime guarantee, IBM touts technology from its X Architecture program to migrate high-end hardware to so-called Wintel servers. But part of the program is a two-hour response time--which only applies within certain distances from United States cities.

There's another catch, too: The guarantee could be voided depending on what software you want to run.

Data General, though it's been offering its uptime guarantee since October, extended that guarantee to NT systems running Microsoft's SQL Server 7.0 database software in November. Another way of looking at the move is that until November, the 99.9 percent uptime guarantee didn't apply if you were running SQL 7.

Data General explained that the difference stems from the way people have deployed Windows NT servers--typically using one server to handle one task. In the case of databases, for example, one server handles the database queries while another handles the delivery of the information to the computer that requested it, said Nina Hargus, director of Windows NT programs for Data General.

Data General's guarantee is significant, she said, because it covers the database as well as the operating system and hardware.

Compaq, IBM, HP, Data General, and others have been working with Microsoft to bring high-end server features to the next version of Windows NT, software now in its third round of beta testing.