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Linux start-up bets on new product, HP deal

Mission Critical Linux next week will release a new high-end product for telecommunications companies and announce a partnership with Hewlett-Packard.

Mission Critical Linux next week will release a new high-end product for telecommunications companies and announce a partnership with Hewlett-Packard, moves that could help the start-up resolve uncertainty about its future.

Mission Critical Linux, based in Lowell, Mass., sells versions of Linux for "failover clustering," in which one computer can take over for a crashed comrade. The current general-purpose clustering product, Convolo, will be joined by NetGuard for telecommunications customers at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo trade show in San Francisco, said founder and vice chairman Moiz Kohari. Both products cost $1,000 per server.

Also next week, the company will announce a collaboration under which its clustering software will be sold in combination with Hewlett-Packard servers and storage systems, the companies said. The systems are installed and monitored by Mission Critical Linux personnel with a lease cost beginning at $3,000 per month.

The moves could bolster Mission Critical Linux's revenue, key to the company's effort to stay independent and avoid further layoffs.

"We are comfortably funded right now. We have plenty of funds to survive over the next 12 months," Kohari said. However, he added that the company is seeking strategic investors--typically companies that stand to benefit from the prosperity of the companies in which they invest.

"We are pulling together a strategic round at the moment," Kohari said. The investment round likely will close in the next four months, he added.

Mission Critical Linux's biggest competitor in the clustering market is SteelEye Technology, which has partnerships with Compaq and IBM and which received $20 million in funding in July. SteelEye, which was spun off from NCR, also sells clustering products for Windows.

Mission Critical Linux's new NetGuard product serves a smaller market than Convolo, Kohari said, but also a market with fewer competitors. Convolo is designed for conventional servers that perform tasks that require a database on a shared storage system, whereas NetGuard is designed for servers whose operations reside just in memory.

One key market for the product will be voice-over-IP (VoIP), a long-nascent technology to route phone calls using the Internet Protocol (IP), Kohari said. When two people are holding a phone conversation, they can detect a gap of two-tenths of a second, so failover has to be quicker than that, Kohari said. Other possible uses could include processing signals from satellites or radar systems, in which delays also are unacceptable.

NetGuard's failover time is a quarter of that span--0.05 second, the fastest for Linux clustering products, according to an independent study from a major chipmaker that supplies the telecommunications market. NetGuard also supports 128 nodes within a cluster, twice the number of the nearest competitor in the list.

Voice-over-IP has long been a dream of companies looking to bypass current phone networks, but the technology hasn't caught on for mainstream use. Some believe this will change with Windows XP's built-in support for Internet-based phone calls.

Currently, fast-failover clustering products are available from telecommunications equipment suppliers such as Cisco and Juniper Networks, Kohari said.