Stratus brings fault tolerance to the masses

In an effort to bring fault-tolerant servers to a wider potential customer base, Stratus Technologies on Monday began shipping its ftServer 5200, an affordable Intel-based system running Windows 2000, said David Flawn, vice president of business development at Stratus.

Stratus will target the new servers at the application layer of e-business networks, where computer uptime becomes hypercritical.

Expensive, highly reliable Unix-based servers currently dominate the fault-tolerant market, but Stratus will now attack that same market with one- and two-way ftServer 5200 systems powered by Intel Xeon chips running Windows, Flawn said. A four-way version of the server will arrive later this year.

Describing the Stratus decision to embrace fault-tolerant computing atop a Wintel platform, Flawn said, "it's all about economics and simplification.

"In the past, people have generally not put 'Windows' and 'fault-tolerant' in the same sentence. Windows 2000 on the other hand has had some dramatic improvements that allow us to actually build our first fault-tolerant Windows-based solution," Flawn explained.

Stratus will not shy away from aiming directly at the core of the fault-tolerant server market with the new Wintel servers.

"We're going after critical application servers," Flawn said. "If you talk to your bank branch through a GSM phone or via the Internet or via a kiosk or an ATM, all the systems that sit behind that have to be fault-tolerant."

Confident that the ftServer 5200 can meet the promise of 99.999 percent uptime, Flawn said Stratus' advantage with the Wintel-based system will come in the form of pricing and application availability.

"You've got an almost order of magnitude better price performance equation with Windows-based solutions. This is a fault-tolerant server where the entry point is about US$18,000. There's not a Unix server on the planet that will be as capable or reliable as that system [at the same price]. And the ones that try to be fault tolerant are upward to $100,000," Flawn said.

John Holden, an analyst with the Butler Group, a U.K.-based industry research firm, believes that Stratus is bringing much needed fault-tolerance to the Wintel space.

"Long regarded as a niche player in the high-end space, [Stratus has] realized the [Wintel] market now needs the fault-tolerant technologies," Holden said in a Butler Group report. "Historically, fault-tolerant computing was noted for being proprietary and expensive. Stratus, with its wealth of experience in fault-tolerant computing, has produced its Windows 2000-based range of servers at an affordable price," Holden said.

Stratus' Flawn agrees. "The market we played in up to now is sort of like a dog whistle, only heard by a few people, it's a fairly limited market and there are a limited number of applications. We haven't been able to participate in the broader opportunity. Now we have a product that runs any Windows application, using standard commodity hardware, [and] standard componentry, and [which] will be priced at the same point as any other Windows server. This allow us to participate in a much larger market opportunity," Flawn said.

An impressive list of companies have already signed up to buy the ftServer 5200. Among those set to receive the new Stratus system are Merrill Lynch, the Nasdaq stock market, France Telecom, Eckerd, and CH Telecom, a leading telecommunications provider in Taiwan.

The ftServer 5200 isn't just for Windows shops either, Flawn said.

"What's interesting is we found a number of application vendors as well as customers that are looking at taking [Sun Microsystem's] Solaris applications and bringing them over to the Windows platform. One of our first beta sites was called national Discount Brokers, which is owned by Deutsche Bank, and what they did was take a Sun-based order management system and they brought it over to Windows running on our fault-tolerant platform," Flawn said.

More Wintel servers are on the way from Stratus, including an upcoming 64-bit server running Intel's McKinley processor, Flawn said.

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