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Compaq's server focused on price, Linux

Compaq debuts a DS10 at $3,500, the lowest-cost Alpha-based system so far from the computer maker.

Compaq debuted its new DS10 server today, the lowest-cost Alpha-based computer so far from the company.

Code-named the WebBrick, the DS10 incorporates a single 466-MHz Alpha 21264 chip and is priced beginning at a relatively inexpensive $3,500, said Steve Severson, head of marketing for Compaq's lower-end Alpha servers. The machine is targeted toward single-purpose server tasks such as email, Web page serving, protective firewalls, and Internet gateway duties.

The system is available with three operating systems--Microsoft's Windows NT as well as Compaq's Tru64 Unix and OpenVMS. Compaq also will sell a no-operating system version targeted at Linux users, Severson said.

WebBrick computers are likely to be most popular with Linux and Windows users, said Rich Partridge, vice president for DH Brown Associates' parallel systems group. "They're recognizing that Linux is extraordinarily popular," he said.

Linux, a Unix-like operating system available for free or very low cost, has become more prevalent in Compaq's server line, and Compaq believes upcoming Linux-Alpha versions of software from influential companies such as Oracle and SAP will increase sales further, Severson said.

Compaq inherited the Alpha server line when it acquired Digital Equipment Corporation in 1998, gaining access to products well beyond its original stronghold in Intel-based PCs and lower-end servers.

Since then, however, analysts have been waiting to see when the acquisition would bear fruit under Compaq. Despite technically robust performance, sales of Alpha-based products have been relatively anemic.

The DS10 is the next in a series of Alpha-based servers. First out were the high-end 14-chip GS140 and six-chip GS60 servers, followed by the midrange two-chip DS20 and four-chip ES40 servers. In addition, Compaq has released its XP10000 Alpha-based workstation.

Compaq is aiming Alpha servers at Internet service providers, telecommunications companies, and at research organizations who want to gang multiple boxes together to make inexpensive supercomputers using the "Beowulf" method, Severson said.

Like Hewlett-Packard, Compaq will custom install Linux for a fee, Severson said. Otherwise, the company leaves the task to resellers or individuals. That customization includes setting up the Alpha servers as nodes in a Beowulf cluster, he added.

Compaq has said it hopes to take advantage of Linux momentum as a way to spur sales of Alpha machines. In addition to Red Hat, which has had a version of Linux for Alpha for several years, SuSE and Debian are working on or offering Alpha versions of Linux.

There are advantages to the strategy of spreading server tasks such as mail hosting, file and print serving, or Web serving over several independent boxes instead of one more powerful one, Partridge said.

"While there are ways of relying upon the operating system to keep a berserk application from trampling over another application's data area, it sometimes is best to keep them in separate boxes," Partridge said.