NEC rolls out low-cost fault tolerant server

NEC has unveiled a single processor server that promises 99.999 percent uptime

In an effort to make fault tolerant servers more appealing to a broader range of customers, NEC this week unveiled a new single processor server that promises 99.999 percent uptime at a cost of just under US$12,000.

The Express5800/320Ma is about 40 percent cheaper than NEC's previous low-end systems, which are priced around US$25,000. The computer maker was able to reduce the price by stripping out some of the features available in the more expensive servers, says Michael Mitsch, general manager of alliance and strategy for NEC's solutions platform group.

For example, customers buying the 320MA have to pay extra for Active Upgrade, a feature that enables users to make software changes without taking the system down. Active Upgrade comes standard with NEC's more expensive servers. In addition, the 320MA is available with only one socket, which today supports a single-core processor. NEC plans to support dual-core and multi-core processors in the future, Mitsch says.

The 320MA uses the same architecture as NEC's more expensive fault-tolerant boxes to provide a highly available platform. The servers include multiple system components that operate in lockstep so that if one component fails -- a hard disk, for example -- the second component picks up and the system keeps running.

NEC partnered with Stratus to bring the fault tolerant design to lower-priced, Intel-based servers. Previously, fault tolerant servers were based on proprietary processors from NEC, Stratus and HP and, for the most part, were restricted to telecom and financial industries where it made sense to spend millions of dollars to ensure high availability.

"We're bringing the price point of this technology down to the mainstream Intel server market," Mitsch says.

NEC hopes to attract customers that want to avoid the complexity of clusters, but still want the kind of highly available environment that clusters provide. Virtualized environments also are becoming prime candidates for fault tolerant platforms, Mitsch says.

"The fault tolerant system is the only architecture that allows you to guarantee [the uptime] of a [virtualized] container," Mitsch says.

The 320Ma supports Microsoft Windows 2003 Enterprise Edition and Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS4.

NEC's 320Ma comes nearly a year after Stratus introduced its low-cost fault tolerant system, the ftServer 2400.

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