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Tandem software boosts NT clustering

The systems maker unveils new clustering software for its proprietary Himalaya hardware and Intel-based servers running Windows NT.

Declaring that "the cluster is the computer," Tandem Computers (TDM) today unveiled new clustering software for its proprietary Himalaya hardware and for Intel-based PC servers running Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows NT operating system.

The NT half of the announcement was Microsoft's first payoff for the $35 million it paid Tandem to move its clustering and fault-tolerant software to Windows NT. The move is a critical element in Microsoft's campaign to convince major corporations that clusters of PC servers running NT can handle big computing tasks as well as any Unix system, at a drastically lower cost.

Microsoft's Wolfpack technology links clusters of four Pentium processors, at present. The Tandem announcement, along with Digital Equipment's ongoing strategy of linking Pentium processors, may signal that Microsoft will leave the high-end of the NT clustering market to big players with years of experience in that arena.

Tandem's move to NT represents CEO Roel Pieper's effort to broaden the company's market as it attempts a turnaround.

"We must grow as a company and we are moving toward volume and market share with this NT strategy," said Pieper. "We are joining the market in hopes it will transform the company."

The centerpiece of today's announcement was a demonstration of 64 Pentium Pro processors linked through Tandem's technology running Windows NT to crunch a 2-terabyte database from Dayton Hudson, a national retail chain and Tandem customer. Tandem put the cost of that "PC mainframe" at $1.5 million, claiming a comparable Unix cluster would cost three times as much.

"Tandem is the cluster computing company," declared Pieper, putting a new twist on Sun Microsystems' "the network is the computer" tag line. Pieper pointed to Tandem's 20-year legacy in fault-tolerant and clustering computer technologies for banking, retail, and telecommunications customers.

"If anybody believes we are not committed to the Himalaya technology, forget that," Pieper added. "The Himalaya legacy lets us enter the NT environment."

As previously reported by CNET's NEWS.COM, Tandem today announced new software in its renamed "NonStop Software" family, previously called ServerWare.

  • NonStop SQL/MX, its parallel database management system that will run on clusters of Pentium-based PCs that use Microsoft's Windows NT operating system. The product also runs on Tandem's Himalaya line of mainframe-class hardware. NonStop SQL/MX will ship in the fall, with a software developers kit to will be available in next month. Pricing is $495 for five users on a single node; $990 for five users on two nodes.
  • NonStop Tuxedo, Tandem's clustering technology, for NT will link as many as 16 clusters of Pentium-Pro servers with 4 processors each. NonStop Tuxedo, Tandem's version of BEA System's Tuxedo, also runs on Himalaya servers. Release 2 will ship in July, release 1 is now available. The NT version is priced at $3,950 for 10 users, while the Himalaya version is $39,500 for 100 users.
  • NonStop DOM/MP (distributed object manager) for Himalaya, a scalable object request broker, for transaction processing applications, will interact with objects residing on other platforms. It is now shipping for $10,000 to $35,000, depending on the Himalaya server included.
  • NonStop Server for Java, based on JavaSoft's release 1.1.1 of its Java Developer's Kit (JDK), makes Java available for Tandem's Himalaya servers. It will ship in September, when pricing will be announced.

Tandem is best known for its fault-tolerant, mainframe-class computers for banking and retail customers who can't afford to have their systems crash.

"The message is that Himalaya is not old," said Pieper. "We want to extend Himalaya and surround it with NT, not migrate [customers] from Himalaya to NT. We can Web-enable existing Himalaya applications, do new Himalaya applications, and do unique things on Himalaya with Java."

Pieper also explained the deal with Microsoft.

"Microsoft's intent is to demonstrate the enterprise quality and enterprise capability of its NT platform," Pieper said. "We said we could accelerate the market for NT if Microsoft would fund that acceleration. We haven't given Microsoft any intellectual property--they bought time from us, nothing else."

Tandem, Pieper contended, will remain a computer systems company providing hardware, software, and services. "Maybe we were always more a software company than we realized," he said, arguing that today even hardware companies differentiate their products through software enhancements.

Nor will enhancing Windows NT clusters hurt Tandem's proprietary hardware sales, argued William Heil Jr., Tandem senior vice president and general manager of its ServerWare business unit.

"Himalaya has capabilities NT won't deliver for ten years," Heil said. "We can give NT dramatic improvements. Our software makes NT ten times more reliable than before, but Himalaya is still six times more reliable than NT."

Reporter Ben Heskett contributed to this story.