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Compaq takes new approach to server sales

The computer maker discovers that large customers would rather do the "clustering" work themselves rather than buy services from Compaq.

Compaq announced new server systems incorporating comparatively inexpensive backup technology, targeting the fast-growing e-commerce and database markets.

The Windows NT-based servers use a technology called "clustering" to provide relatively low-cost data backup for applications such as e-commerce, Web hosting, and database management, among others. Clustering strings together a number of sever computers and thereby provides backup if any one of the servers fails.

Compaq has found that large customers would rather do clustering work themselves rather than buy services from Compaq, said Vince Gayman, a marketing director at Compaq's Industry Standard Server Division. The new packages take that into account.

"Our approach is different, because it lets customers choose what cluster servers they want," Gayman said. Compaq has certified about 200 cluster solutions with Microsoft, he noted.

Code-named Toucan, the system depends on Compaq's large customer base of Intel-based ProLiant servers, which mainly run Windows NT. Compaq led the NT space in the first quarter, shipping 184,000 ProLiant servers, according to International Data Corporation.

"This is a big sign that the [Windows NT] market is maturing, and we're starting to see a need for [clustering-based data backup] lower in the food chain," said James Gruener, analyst with the Aberdeen Group. "When you're packaging it up in a box, you're taking away some of the complexity, which is crucial for most customers."

Compaq bases its clustered server package on the ProLiant 1850R server, which supports up to two Pentium III processors. Cluster packages will start around $15,000 and go up to about $25,000.

Compaq expects to start offering the cluster packages later in the third quarter, with full availability early in the fourth quarter.

Compaq also hopes to capitalize on Windows NT's growing presence with high-end, corporate "enterprise" customers, by offering them a simpler way of ordering and deploying NT clusters. Clusters typically are not available one-stop packages and are assembled in pieces, such as servers, storage, and networking components.