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Compaq debuts advanced servers

Compaq's hardware and software package will allow it to graduate to advanced server "clustering" in a relatively short period of time.

Compaq Computer (CPQ) unveiled an ambitious clustering strategy today, combining its own technology with that of Microsoft and Tandem, into a package that the company says will allow it to graduate to advanced server "clustering" in a relatively short period of time.

The No.1 PC vendor also rolled out a new line of midrange servers that adopts fast processing technology from Compaq workstations.

The ProLiant Cluster Series F and Cluster Series S, Compaq's clustering technologies, allow users to string together servers for increased fault tolerance and more efficient computing, according to Vince Gayman, marketing manager for clustering at Compaq.

Series F essentially combines the Microsoft Cluster Server software with ServerNet interconnect technology from Tandem and Compaq's own Fibre Channel technology, said Gayman. Cluster Server, released in September, allows a user to tie two servers together in a "fail-safe" mode: if one goes down, the other one picks up the load.

The ServerNet technology creates a high-speed avenue for communication between the two computers. Fibre Channel, on the other hand, is a storage technology that allows servers to transfer large amounts of data with relative ease. Combined, these elements provide the backbone and means for clustering.

In the Series F servers, the technology will be used to create a quick-response, intelligent backup system in case one of the servers or one of its components fails. As a result, users should suffer fewer network outages.

Series S uses Cluster Server and ServerNet but takes advantage of currently standard storage technologies.

The new architecture will also ease the path to multiple clusters. Right now, users at most can tie two servers together with Cluster Server. Unix computers, on the other hand, can create clusters of eight or more servers.

"Today, it's just for 'fail-over.' Most customers and the people using clustering on Unix right now want it for the availability [fault tolerance[ reasons," said Gayman. "ServerNet now is being used as an interconnect, but we are releasing it in anticipation of the next generation of clustering technology."

Compaq acquired Tandem earlier this year.

Cluster Series F and S will become available in the first quarter of 1998 and be supported by virtually all of Compaq's NT servers, added Gayman. To ensure a smooth rollout, Compaq has been working with its resellers to train them in this technology.

Meanwhile, four new ProLiant midrange servers introduced today are aimed at midsized organizations and departments. They are the ProLiant 5500, 3000, 1600, and 1200 models. These servers adopt for the first time Compaq's "Highly Parallel System Architecture" technology, according to John Young, director of product marketing and business operations at Compaq.

Highly Parallel System Architecture allows the computer maker to incorporate two independent PCI "buses"--high-speed data paths in a computer--to eliminate data bottlenecks between peripherals such as hard disk drives and the system's memory and processor. The architecture also includes two memory controllers.

The PCI technology was first introduced in June on the company's line of NT-based workstations.

Other features offered by the new servers include PCI "hot-plug" technology, which allows users to swap out drives, power supplies, and other parts while the server is still live.

All of the servers support the I2O standard as well, noted Young. I20 is a new input/output architecture recently unveiled by Intel that allows vendors or users to insert a chip dedicated to data input and output into servers. The innovation is expected to alleviate the computing load for the main processors and help smooth data traffic. Those who want I2O, however, have to include it on the purchase request. "What we're not doing is soldering I20 processors down on our designs," he said.

The ProLiant 5500, the largest server introduced today, supports up to four Pentium Pro processors with the older 512K cache memory and up to 128GB memory. It starts at a base price of $8,470.

The ProLiant 3000 and 1600 support two Pentium II processors with 64MB of ECC memory. The 3000 uses a Pentium II running at 300 MHz while the 1600 uses a 266-MHz chip. The 1600 will cost $3,780 while the 3000 will cost $4,775.

The ProLiant 1200 server comes with a single 233-MHz Pentium II processor and 32MB of memory and will be priced at $2,780.

All new systems will come with built-in 10-mbps and 100-mbps Ethernet capabilities.