NEC Solutions America, the U.S. unit of Japanese server maker NEC Corp., has announced a new fault tolerant Windows server, a machine with the unwieldy name of the Express5800/340 Hb-R. The machine was announced in Japan a few months ago and is now being sold in the States, where NEC is trying to expand its share of the server market.
According to Brad Lightner, director of product marketing at NEC’s American unit, the NEC box is based on fault tolerant technologies that NEC licenses from Stratus Technologies, a long-time vendor of fault tolerant machines that essentially double up on the core server components and do the same work twice. This way, if one component of a machine fails, another machine has already done the exact same work and downtime is minimized.
NEC launched its Express5800/ft line for Windows 2000, also based on Stratus intellectual property, back in May 2001. The new Express5800/340 Hb-R runs Windows Server 2003 (and even includes a license to it). NEC adds proprietary hardware and software (mostly for remote systems management) to the Stratus technology that it licenses to create this fault tolerant Windows box; it is not merely a rebranding of an existing Stratus machine.
The base Express5800/340 Hb-R comes with two four-way motherboards, each with two 2.8GHz/2MB Xeon processors from Intel Corp; the boards are based on the ServerWorks GC-HE chipset. Each board has 2GB of main memory (expandable to 12GB), and has three PCI slots as well as a PCI expansion chassis that can provide up to six more slots (12 physical, 6 logical) for the system.
The Express5800 340/Hb-R also has an external I/O chassis that has two 18GB disk drives and four open slots. NEC is supporting 73GB and 146GB disk drives in these I/O chassis. The servers come with Gigabit Ethernet NICs on the boards, and the clustering support for fault tolerance built in. NEC has a special license from Microsoft Corp that allows the machine to only need one copy of Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition even though there are two physical machines.
They function as a single logical machine, so Microsoft only charges once. Any application that runs on Windows 2003 will run on the NEC box, since the applications are not even aware that they are being mirrored. The whole shebang fits in a 10U, rack-mounted form factor. While providing fault tolerance is never cheap, the sticker price on this box may shock IT shops accustomed to current prices for four-way servers. A logical two-way machine with 2GB of logical memory sells for $149,999.
Lightner says that to sell these machines, NEC is going to focus on the IT operating budget to make a case that downtime in general and the costs of Windows server sprawl can more than justify the move to the new Express fault tolerant server.
NEC is particularly excited about Microsoft’s Virtual Server 2005, in that it will enable NEC to position the new Express FT server as a serve consolidation box. He says that NERC can put one of these boxes into a shop for around $4,800 a month on a three year lease, and that with extra storage that price could rise to $6,000. This is about what a systems operator costs an IT organization a month. Customers who cluster their servers may get some resiliency and horizontal performance benefits, to be sure, but the people costs associated with such clusters is very high, says Lightner. With a fault tolerant server, you get better availability benefits than you can get from a cluster without the hassle and administrative costs.
NEC believes that clusters only offer three nines of availability a year (that’s a little more than eight hours of downtime) compared to the five nines availability of the FT series machine from NEC (that’s under five minutes a year). FT machines have no performance impact, no data loss, and do not have to have their applications cluster-enabled.
NEC says that Express5800/340 Hb-R systems are available on a build-to-order basis right now, with general availability ramping up through the fall. It stands to reason that NEC will eventually offer Itanium-based FT machines that scale beyond logical four-way processing, but Lightner was mum on the subject. NEC is already shipping 32-way Asama Express5800 servers, and could easily offer FT servers with eight, 16, or 32 logical processors.