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Dell plans new server strategy

Dell is quietly becoming a force in the server market as it plans to break into the clustering business and launch a new line of products.

Best known for its direct marketing of desktop and notebook PCs, Dell Computer(DELL) is quietly becoming a force in the server market as it plans to break into the clustering business and launch a new line of products.

Dell is planning to get dead serious about advanced server technology, ordinarily the realm of server heavyweights such as Compaq Computer and Hewlett-Packard, when it moves into the increasingly important server clustering market, possibly later this year.

Dell will also expand its server computer lineup Monday with high-end servers that can use up to four Pentium Pro processors, putting it in the same league with Compaq, HP, and IBM.

This is happening against a backdrop of a 1996 International Data Corporation report that showed that Dell had become the fourth-largest server vendor in the United States.

"We'll make the investment, and we'll be there," said Larry Evans, vice president and general manager at Dell's Server Group, referring to his company's entry into the clustering market.

Clustering of Intel-processor-based servers is becoming an extremely important technology for companies such as Compaq, IBM, HP, and Dell, allowing a potential dramatic cost savings over the traditional Unix vendors.

In clustering, a group of servers are strung together and talk to each other constantly. In the case that one of them goes down, other servers kick in. This allows a company's servers to continue to operate even in the event of a server crash, which can typically paralyze a company.

"We will follow [Microsoft's] WolfPack [technology] clustering. When this is in place, software developers will port software because the volume is there," Evans said.

Wolfpack is an application program interface that is expected to standardize clustering for Intel-processor-based servers from Dell, Compaq, HP, IBM, and others running the Windows NT operating system.

Evans says the first wave of WolfPack technology from Microsoft this year will begin to enable high-availability (crash-resistant) clustering, while the second wave--likely to take hold in 1998--will be a "scalable approach" that may provide the most dramatic results. This will allow companies to increase performance by simply adding more servers to the cluster.

Meanwhile, Dell will offer a new line of PowerEdge 6100 servers Monday with features such as advanced storage systems based on RAID and Ultra-Wide SCSI-3 technologies, as well as fault-tolerant network interface cards and power supplies. Dell will also have support built in for I20, a new technology for increasing the performance of servers by offloading data traffic to special processors.

Dell will also offer server management software such as OpenView from HP, TME 10 from Tivoli, LanDesk Server Manager from Intel, and Systems Management server from Microsoft.

A Dell PowerEdge 610 with one 200-MHz Pentium Pro processor with 512K of cache integrated and a 4GB hard drive will sell for $9,999. At the high end, a server with four Pentium Pro processors and 16GB of hard disk storage will sell for $22,999.