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Stratus, NEC see double with fault-tolerant iron

Xeon 5500 engineering push

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Server partners Stratus Technologies and NEC have revamped their fault tolerant server lineups to take advantage of Intel's quad-core Nehalem EP Xeon 5500 servers.

The two companies typically like to get their fault tolerant machines out the door within a quarter of a new chip launch from Intel.

This time, though, the big shift from the old frontside bus on Xeon chips to the new QuickPath Interconnect used with the Xeon 5500s, plus other changes in the system BIOS, forced them to do more engineering work and testing to hit the market. In a few weeks they will begin shipping the fault-tolerant machines they created together, with their respective labels.

Fault tolerant servers are distinct from the more popular clusters in that they are two completely mirrored systems running two copies of an operating system and their applications are kept in absolute lockstep by a chipset and electronics in Intel's Xeon chips.

High-availability clusters, by contract, link one or more server nodes and replicate data between machines so they can take over each others' work in the event one node in the cluster goes down.

Historically, clustering has been cheaper to do even if it is more complex for IT shops to manage. The advent of x86 and x64 servers from Stratus and NEC, though, have brought the price of an fault-tolerant setup down even as the performance has gone up with every successive Xeon chip generation.

With support for the Xeon 5500s, even a two-socket fault tolerant box is going to have enough oomph for a lot of workloads, and for many kinds of applications - such as police, fire, and other emergency responders, who like fault tolerant boxes. These are environments, though, where the IT skills are a little thin and paying extra for mirrored machines that manage themselves is easier than trying to build and support an high-availability fail-over cluster. And where the bugets for doubling up on software licenses are kinda thin.

To make the current generation of fault-tolerant machines - this is the fifth generation of Xeon-based FT boxes from Stratus, but the sixth generation from NEC, which did its own before partnering with Stratus - the two companies collaborated on the design of the GeminiEngine chipset. This chipset accesses the lockstepping functions inside the Xeon chip and allows for the two server modules in the fault-tolerant box to be kept in absolute synch in terms of CPU, memory, disk, and network processing.

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