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Start-up follows Sun's abandoned path

Irish company Antefacto says it can ensure Web sites less than five minutes of down time a year with a product that fills the void Sun Microsystems left when it dropped StaqWare software.

Irish start-up Antefacto has picked up a part of the appliance server market vacated by Sun Microsystems last year.

After Sun bought appliance server maker Cobalt Networks in the autumn of 2000, the computing giant quietly dropped the StaqWare software that let Internet service providers and businesses build high-availability clusters of Cobalt Raq server appliances. The reason Sun gave to its Cobalt subsidiary at the time was that it did not want to be in the software application business, and StaqWare was a software application.

Now, Antefacto has taken up where Sun left off, launching the S1000 high-availability appliance. With the S1000, Antefacto reckons that companies with mission-critical Web sites will be able to ensure less than five minutes downtime a year--that equates to what is known as five-nines availability, or 99.999 percent availability.

Cobalt quoted four-nines availability for StaqWare, equivalent to about one hour of downtime a year. Both levels were until recently only available in very high-cost systems that only large organizations could afford.

The S1000 works by pairing two Cobalt Raq servers; if one fails, the other immediately takes over.

"The important thing is to make sure the content is the same on each server," said Antefacto Chief Executive Fergal Murray, "so that if one fails nothing is lost in the switchover."

The common method for doing this is to store the database on a third server, separate from the two Web servers. But Cobalt Raqs have PostgreSQL and MySQL databases installed as standard, so most Web sites that run on Raqs will store the database on the Web server. Antefacto's solution was to create small applications that sit on each Raq, so that the S1000 can keep the databases synchronized; if one Raq fails, no content is lost.

Murray said a regular installation would involve two S1000s to provide fault tolerance if one fails, but noted that Internet service providers will be able to spread the cost across as many as 20 sites, offering fault tolerance as an extra service to customers.

Matt Loney reported from London.