Introducing software that allows groups of network servers to be clustered together to function as a single server is one of the current preoccupations in the computer industry. So is naming that technology after an eerie natural scene. Sun will be the latest vendor to join this Ansel Adams-inspired parade of code names when it introduces clustering technology, code-named Full Moon, at Internet World this week.
Microsoft, often accused of introducing proprietary standards to the industry, has set a clear vendor-wide specification for clustering code names by dubbing its Intel-based clustering initiative "Wolfpack." Novell followed Microsoft's code name lead with its "Wolf Mountain" clustering scheme. Now Sun has introduced Full Moon.
Sun currently offers a variety of clustering software options that allow customers to connect two systems. Clustering is a means for users to gain reliability and performance with server systems. A clustered configuration of servers will transfer a set of applications running on one server to second server if the primary system fails.
Most vendors are continuing to work on the performance piece of clustering software, which aspires to offer users a single system image of applications and systems in a cluster, turning what could be several connected multiprocessor machines into one system.
From a Unix perspective, Sun is attempting to blunt the impact of rival clustering technologies from Digital Equipment, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard. Digital Equipment pioneered clustering technology in the 1980s with its VMS-based VAX Clusters.
The Full Moon technology will be released in three phases starting in April, continuing in the fourth quarter of this year, and extending into 1999. The software will be embedded in future versions of Sun's Solaris Unix-based operating system, but will be priced as an add-on to the platform.
Sun's code name represents an overarching technology that will likely change as the company comes closer to delivering the product, according to Sanjay Sinha, Sun's manager for Solaris Server marketing.
Sun currently offers a Solstice HA product that will be augmented next month with a clustering application programming interface (API), allowing developers to build two-node failover systems. The next version will also support parallel databases from Oracle, Sybase, and Informix Software, as well as Network File System services. Netscape Communications Communications Server and Enterprise Server will also be included in the mix.
In the fourth quarter of this year, Sun will deliver a four-node capability in its clustering software that will allow up to four Sun servers to be connected, including the company's huge 64-processor systems, according to Sinha.
The software will only allow one application to fail over to a second system in a multiple-application environment, allowing, for example, an administrator to tweak a specific application offline. The company will also introduce cluster monitoring capabilities over the Web using the Java Management API set. Support for SAP AG and Lotus Development applications will also be delivered, as well as support for Sun's own Internet Mail Server and Solaris Web Server.
In 1998, Sun plans to introduce an eight-node clustering capability that will take advantage of a Global File System, which will allow any node in a cluster to view files on an individual machine, the first step toward a single system image. A cluster of servers will also be viewed by users and administrators as a single Internet Protocol (IP) address. Disk farms attached to a specific server node in a cluster will also be available to serve all other nodes in a cluster. And more robust Java-based software clustering controls will be available, as well as high-speed interconnect support, called ClusterChannel.
It won't be until 1999 that many customers will be able to see the true promise of clustering in a Sun environment. That's when the company plans to deliver a full-fledged single system image capability that will essentially allow a multinode cluster to deliver information to users as if it were a single machine, even though applications may be running across multiple nodes.
Unix vendors are using technologies such as clustering to differentiate themselves from Microsoft's popular Windows NT Server operating system, just as Microsoft is using Wolfpack to try and scale to meet enterprise needs with NT.
Analysts said that Microsoft's Wolfpack will not deliver the same capabilities that Unix vendors will, due to the symmetric multiprocessing scalability constraints of NT. But some also noted that Sun is not up to speed with its Unix competitors.
"At this moment Sun is very far behind," noted Peter Lowber, an analyst for the DataPro Information Services consultancy. "The other Unix guys--HP, Digital, and IBM--have a much more sophisticated failover capability."
Lowber said the lack of a coherent clustering strategy from Sun has not hurt the company as of yet, noting that sales of Sun's Ultra Enterprise line of servers have been brisk.
The Full Moon technology will be available for all Sun server platforms that run the full-blown Solaris operating environment. Some Sun Netra servers, which run a stripped-down version of Solaris for specific tasks, will not have clustering capabilities, according to Sinha.