HP cuts NT crashes with Marathon deal

Hewlett-Packard signs a multimillion-dollar deal with Marathon Technologies to bring greater reliability to its Windows NT servers.

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Hewlett-Packard has signed a multimillion-dollar deal with Marathon Technologies to bring greater reliability to its Windows NT servers.

Under the agreement, Hewlett-Packard will ship special server configurations using Marathon's technology, and both companies will market the product, the companies said.

Marathon's technology, called Endurance, bypasses most of the circumstances that cause Windows NT to crash, said Marathon's Craig Anderson.

The products will begin shipping in July with prices between $55,000 and about $100,000, said Jon Affeld, product manager at HP, including at least a year of 24-hour technical support from HP.

NEC already sells Marathon's Endurance technology in Japan, but the HP deal "clearly is the most important strategic relationship what we have," Anderson said.

Marathon's technology addresses the crash-prone nature that many see as a factor limiting the spread of Microsoft Windows NT into more powerful servers. Analysts deride the "blue screen of death" that indicates a major system crash, and even Microsoft acknowledges its weakness in the area.

For example, Brian Ball, general manager of Microsoft's Enterprise Platform Group, described help Microsoft is getting from Compaq and others to make its future server editions of Windows better able to work on "clusters" of servers that are connected so one can take over when another fails. "We can't do it ourselves," Ball said.

Microsoft also has endorsed Marathon's technology, saying that it's "confirmation of the demand" for Windows NT in servers that companies can't afford to have crash.

In another Microsoft-endorsed project, IBM is working on a different method of beefing up NT, with clustering software that's more powerful than what comes with this and the next version of Windows NT. IBM will debut the software, code-named "Cornhusker," at the PC Expo conference later this month, sources said.

Running Marathon
The Marathon technology connects four computers called "server components" into a single system, Anderson said. One pair of server components are dedicated to running programs--database or email software, for example--and the other pair handles communications with the network and disk storage systems.

Separating the application software from the communication software eliminates the biggest source of NT failures, Anderson said. "It computes through all manner of single points of hardware failure as well as the vast majority of software faults," he said.

Each pair of components does the same work side by side, mirroring its partner's behavior. If one member of the twosome crashes or needs to be shut down for maintenance, it will automatically re-synchronize with its double upon rebooting.

The Endurance system uses software that runs at a more basic level than Windows NT itself, which means that Windows NT and whatever programs are running on it don't need to be modified to take advantage of the system, Anderson said.

The HP system will be available in three configurations, Affeld said. The cheapest, called Remote Site, will be based on four HP LPr NetServers and can be bolted into a 1.3 meter rack. The next most expensive option, Central Site, fits into a 2-meter rack and is more expandable, Affeld said, and uses more powerful LH 3r systems for the two application server components.

The most expensive model is the Split Site model, which connects the two pairs of components by a fiber optic line. The line can be nearly a mile long, providing disaster tolerance such as the ability to withstand fires, Anderson said.