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Unisys beefs up its server tools

The revamped Server Sentinel package gains features designed to predict when a computer is about to fail--and then switch its tasks to a backup machine.

Unisys has retooled its Server Sentinel management software, which is designed to help Microsoft Windows programs run as smoothly as possible on the company's ES7000 servers.

One new feature will let Server Sentinel software move a computing task from one server to a backup machine if the software decides the primary machine is about to fail, said Jon Burns, director of Unisys' Sentinel program.

"It can anticipate potential issues that might cause a failure to occur--like a memory threshold being exceeded. The system can automatically engage in a structured failover," he said.

High-end versions of the Windows operating system include this failover technology, but it only kicks in after disaster has struck and therefore typically results a longer delay in restoring services.

Blue Bell, Pa.-based Unisys, like rivals IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell Computer and Sun Microsystems, is betting that more powerful management software will help draw customers. This new generation of management tools increasingly automates management tasks, and server makers tout management software to customers as a way to cut computer administration costs.

The updated Server Sentinel package comes with third-party security programs to detect computer attacks, to protect against such attacks and to scan for computer vulnerabilities.

Unisys also released a separate suite of management programs called Application Sentinel, Burns said. This suite has application-specific features, such as one for Microsoft's SQL Server database product that lets the software optimize and manage how a single system balances a variety of different applications, Burns said. Another package adjusts the consolidation of programs running on numerous systems so that they run instead on larger, centralized machines.

The Server Sentinel software is included with Unisys' ES7000 servers, which pioneered the use Windows on large computers (with as many as 32 Intel processors). Those systems, however, never caught on widely.

The Application Sentinel software, though, isn't bundled for free, Burns said. Instead, each package costs about $1,000 per processor to run on a server.

Although Unisys' Sentinel software is for Windows machines, the company has begun branching out into support for the Linux operating system through a partnership with Linux seller SCO Group, Burns said.

The company made the move because some customers include Linux support on the checklist of requirements from computer makers.

But Unisys remains a vocal Microsoft supporter, and Windows is the priority. "Obviously, our focus really remains the Microsoft environment. That's where we're really putting our major investments," Burns said.

Some in the industry question SCO Group's current Linux plans. The company is seeking more than $1 billion in a lawsuit against IBM, alleging that Big Blue misappropriated trade secrets in Unix and built them into Linux, a move that many see as threatening Linux overall as well as to IBM specifically.