Compaq Announces Long-Delayed Wildfire Servers

Compaq Computer Corp.'s continuing bid to be taken seriously as a vendor of enterprise server technologies kicked into high gear this morning with the delayed introduction of its Wildfire series of high-end Alpha servers.

The systems, which support up to 32 processors in some models, can run both Unix and OpenVMS applications and feature capabilities that are expected to make Compaq a strong contender in the high-end server market.

Key among these capabilities are clustering technologies for increased scalability and reliability, a dynamic partitioning feature that allows online resource changes and a modular design that lets users build up their system incrementally on an as-needed basis.

The long-delayed servers mark Compaq's first major high-end hardware technology upgrade since its acquisition of Digital Equipment Corp. nearly two years ago.

Originally slated to be released in late 1998, the new additions to Compaq's AlphaServer GS series are the first upgrades to Digital's 14-processor TurboLaser systems, launched five years ago.

The systems should "reset marketplace perceptions and customer expectations" at the high end of the server market, wrote Terry Shannon, editor of "Shannon Knows Compaq," in a recent edition of the Ashland, Massachusetts-based newsletter.

Though Compaq inherited a range of high-end enterprise server technologies from its acquisitions of both Digital and Tandem Computer Systems Inc., the Houston-based company so far has been largely unable to gain ground against rivals such as Sun Microsystems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM.

"Wildfire is way more than a day late, but the new architecture won't be a dollar short on the performance or scalability front," Shannon said.

Some users were similarly impressed.

The new GS series servers should result "in a dramatic throughput improvement as far as our applications are concerned," said Dave Robinson, vice president of MIS at Southeastern Freight Lines Inc., a Columbia, South Carolina-based transportation company.

For instance, features such as dynamic partitioning will let Southeastern Freight allocate more system resources for running batch applications during times when online application usage is low, Robinson said.

The company currently runs its core financial and operations applications on two clustered TurboLaser systems. Later this year, it plans to add an AlphaServer GS machine that will be tied into the existing cluster, Robinson said.

For Celera Genomics Inc. in Rockville, Maryland, the GS line's support for very large memory is proving to be particularly useful.

Celera uses Alpha servers for its gene sequencing work and recently purchased one of the new servers with 64GB of main memory - and it's already looking for bigger memory support, said Marshall Peterson, director of infrastructure at Celera. "Other vendors support large memories, too, but do not offer the same performance as Alpha," Peterson said.

Each Wildfire system can be partitioned into smaller virtual systems, which Compaq said will allow administrators to take workloads off of multiple smaller servers and consolidate them on one large box. Clustering technology will let users tie multiple Wildfire systems into even bigger configurations for increased scalability and reliability, the vendor added.

The Wildfire family will be available in three flavors supporting eight, 16 and 32 processors, respectively. Prices start at less than $100,000 for low-end configurations and can go up to more than $1 million at the high end. An AlphaServer GS320 with 16GB of memory and 16 processors will cost about $831,000, Compaq said.

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