Compaq Leads High-End Unix Server Charge

NEW YORK (05/23/2000) - In its first significant high-end server announcement aimed at enterprise users since acquiring Digital two years ago, Compaq Computer Corp. last week announced three 64-bit Unix Alpha-based systems that will take direct aim at offerings from IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc.

Compaq claims the new servers will give users more performance and scalability.

Most notably, they can allow companies in the e-commerce market or those with large database-driven applications to use fewer servers and simplify management of their server infrastructure.

At an event held in New York at the Rainbow Room, Compaq CEO Michael Capellas teamed with Oracle Executive Vice President Gary Bloom to tout a strong relationship between the two companies, intended to build confidence in Compaq's business and technical strategy. That strategy includes offering complete low- to high-end systems and the latest applications for Compaq's high-end Alpha servers.

Capellas said the company will also place a lot more emphasis on marketing its Alpha-based systems to enterprise users, acknowledging that the company has not done well in that arena.

The new AlphaServer GS Series servers, code-named Wildfire, can scale from one to 32 processors and run Compaq's Tru64 Unix or OpenVMS operating systems. The company will initially offer the servers in eight-, 16- and 32-way configurations priced from less than $100,000 to more than $1.5 million.

Compaq had said it would introduce these systems by the end of 1998, but the company ran more than a year late because of difficulties it encountered in building custom Application Specific Integrated Circuit chips that allow for logical partitioning of the servers' processor resources.

The systems use Compaq's quad EV7 processor modules running at 731 MHz. The servers also have four storage arrays with up to 32G bytes of memory, eight PCI buses and 28 PCI slots. The GS 320 32-processor configuration can support up to .25 terabytes of memory.

Observers say Compaq's GS Series will compete with Sun's Ultra Enterprise family, Hewlett-Packard's V-Series and IBM's RS6000 systems. The combined Unix server market last year was worth $3 billion, according to IDC, a Framingham, Mass., market research firm. SCO OpenServer, Sun Solaris (SPARC and Intel), SCO UnixWare, IBM AIX, HP-UX and Compaq's Tru64 Unix dominated that market in descending order.

For users, what appears to be most important is a vendor's ability to provide multiple platforms.

John Whitmarsh, a research analyst at The Standish Group in West Yarmouth, Mass., says focus groups his company has conducted with chief information officers indicate that enterprise users are increasingly concerned about finding vendors that can fill a range of needs. "These servers fill out Compaq's product line in a way that they can now provide everything from low-end desktops to high-availability, non-stop systems," he says. "So if you are looking at Compaq from an IT professional's chair, they have a great story to tell. They are a player."

In releasing its servers, Compaq said it will target enterprise users in the database and Internet arenas, where the need to provide constant uptime is critical along with the ability to scale performance quickly. Compaq also said in addition to working closely with partners Oracle and SAP, it will continue to recruit more independent software vendors for Tru64 and OpenVMS.

The steeper pricing of the GS Series may force comparisons to the mainframe market, but when users add the cost of personnel and software, the two systems are not really in the same range, observers say. Jim Johnson, an analyst with Standish Group, says research shows mainframes to be two to three times as expensive as high-end Unix servers, with Unix transactions costing between .004 cents and .009 cents per transaction made on the server, while mainframe transactions cost about .017 cents.

Besides providing users with two to three times the scalability they had with eight-way servers from Compaq prior to the GS Series release, the new servers allow for logical partitioning. By partitioning servers to handle multiple functions, users can reduce the number of servers they support and designate processor and memory bandwidth for applications. That means less administration and better quality of service for users.

For example, at Acxiom, a Little Rock, Ark., company that provides customer relationship management and data warehouse services, GS 320s are going to allow for better performance and scalability, says Paul Montrose, business unit leader at Acxiom.

"By partitioning the GS Series, we can move into a model where we can use it for more than one application and do logical partitioning," Montrose says, adding the company also looked into a mainframe. "Mainframes don't give us the capability to work in a client-type environment, or have the availability of open systems. [Our application] is going to be accessed via the Web - like when the customer gives an operator a name and we provide the link back. Mainframes haven't been able to do that as well."

Compaq will begin volume shipments of its 16-way GS 160 and 32-way GS 320 in June; the eight-way GS 80 will ship in the third quarter of this year.


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