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Stratus, NEC see double with fault-tolerant iron

Xeon 5500 engineering push

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Stratus and NEC also tweaked the server's BIOS to support their own system monitoring and management software. NEC actually manufactured the fault-tolerant machines, much as it manufacturers the high-end of the Unisys SMP server line using Intel's six-core Xeon 7400 processors. These use the old frontside bus and scale up to 96 cores under a similar partnership that has Unisys and NEC peddling the boxes independently.

The basic hardware in the fault-tolerant machines are the same, with Stratus and NEC only supporting the 2GHz E5504 and 2.93 GHz X5570 versions of the Nehalem EP chips. The two-socket server module supports six memory slots per socket, and can use 1GB, 2GB, 4GB, or 8GB DDR3 memory, for a maximum of 96GB of main memory.

This is the logical capacity of the fault-tolerant machines, of course. Physically, there are two complete servers in an fault-tolerant setup. The system includes the management controller in the base price, which is new this time around. Customers used to have to pay extra for that, and were no doubt annoyed since it is really a requirement.

Stratus and NEC package the boxes a little differently. NEC's Express5800/R320a-E4 and Stratus' ftServer 4500 are essentially the same machine, using the slower E5504 processors - with either one or two logical processors, or four or eight cores, in the box - and either 48GB or 96GB of logical memory. The machine has two logical Gigabit-Ethernet ports and two integrated PCI-Express 1.0 peripheral slots. The machines have an optional additional two PCI-Express 2.0 or two PCI-X slots.

NEC's Express5800/R320a-M4 is essentially the same as the Stratus ftServer 6300. These machines come with two logical X5570 processors and up to 96GB of logical memory. The machine comes with the two base PCI-Express 1.0 and both vendors support an additional two PCI-Express 2.0 slots. All four of these machines come in a 4U rack unit - that's two 2U servers stacked.

The server chassis now has a shared DVD for both nodes in the fault-tolerant cluster, and the move to 2.5-inch disks means that customers can now put eight drives into a server node. That's an increase from three in the prior generation, and users can stripe their data for performance if they want to.

Slim fit

To chase smaller customers with lower budgets, Stratus is selling a slimmed-down machine, the ftServer 2600, which only supports one logical processor socket, up to 16GB of main memory, and only has the base two PCI-Express 1.0 slots on the system board of each node.

According to Denny Lane, director of product marketing at Stratus, this entry ftServer 2600 with one processor and 4GB of memory can be had for $13,000 on the street.

A reasonable midrange configuration of the ftServer line runs in the range of $25,000, according to Lane, and a high-end configuration can run to around $40,000. Fully loading an ftServer with the latest Intel processors, plus lots of memory and disks, can push the price up towards $100,000.

NEC's director of product marketing Ken Hertzler says the suggested list price for a base Express5800/R320a-E4 with no memory or disk runs to $17,000, with a decently configured box costing between $20,000 and $25,000. A heaver configuration with two logical processors, something in the range of 20GB of memory, and four disks costs over $30,000.

Both Stratus and NEC say they will start shipping their respective boxes using the Xeon 5500s within a few weeks. Both will support Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 on the machines at ship time, and plan to get support for Red Hat's Enterprise Linux 5 out the door in the fourth quarter.

Stratus says it will have support for VMware's ESX Server 4.0 hypervisor and its vSphere 4.0 management stack on the new ftServers by the first quarter of 2010. NEC merely says it has support for other operating systems and hypervisors coming down the pike.

Customers who need to support ESX Server 4.0 or RHEL 5 today can run them on the earlier ftServers from Stratus that employed the Xeon 5400 processors. NEC supports RHEL 5 and ESX Server 3.0 on its earlier generation of fault-tolerant machines. ®

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