Compaq to kick off software strategy

Compaq Computer Corp. on Wednesday revealed its Adaptive Infrastructure Strategy for the company’s future server and software offerings.

The AIS (Adaptive Infrastructure Strategy) calls for the addition of advanced failover and clustering technology, remote system management, self-healing technology for server hardware, and system automation, said Mary McDowell, the vice-president and general manager of Compaq’s industry standard server group, in Houston.

McDowell announced that components of AIS will ship in new server software from Compaq called Proliant Essentials early next year when Compaq’s line of QuickBlade server blades debuts.

Server blades are a new breed of ultra-dense server which sport a revolutionary vertical design that lends itself nicely to low-power, low-heat operation while allowing users to fit hundreds of server blades in a standard rack. Early server blades were from smaller companies such as RLX and Racemi, targeting mainly front-end Web server applications. But larger, established computer makers such as Hewlett-Packard Co., Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM Corp., and Dell Computer Corp. have each been quick to notice the potential of the server blade’s design and all have plans to ship blade products next year.

Compaq will offer a wide range of QuickBlade server blades for not only front-end applications, but also for application layer server environments and backend database deployments, McDowell said.

Unlike Hewlett-Packard, which on Tuesday called on fellow server blade vendors such as Compaq to follow strict NEBS (network equipment building standards) to provide cross-vendor for interoperability, Compaq will build QuickBlade servers to its own design specifications. For Compaq, interoperability with third party server blades will come from the ability to connect through common IP Ethernet-based technology which will act as the interconnect fabric for Compaq’s QuickBlade systems, McDowell said.

Front-end QuickBlade server blades will be housed in a 3U enclosure. Mid-tier and backend server blades will fit in 6U enclosures, McDowell said.

Compaq’s Proliant Essentials software will possess tools for automated system provisioning which allows for operating systems and driver upgrades across multiple servers. The software will also provide for intelligent fault resilience to ensure that systems stay up and running, as well as Dynamic resource scaling, which will allow users to dial up and dial down resources as needed. Virtual presence and control capabilities, which will allow administrators to manage and control server systems from remote locations, will also be key to the new software, McDowell said.

Existing Compaq software like InsightManager, SmartStart, ActiveUpdate, Rapid Deployment Pack, and Workload Manager will also be folded into Proliant Essentials.

Of HP’s call to the industry to design server blades to both the CompactPCI and NEBS standards, McDowell said she thought HP was off the mark in implementing an architecture designed primarily for telcos.

“It does look like we are designing (server blades) for different customers,” McDowell said. “We are designing for the data centre, and (HP) is designing for the central office.”

While HP’s plan is to sell NEBS-based server blades to both telcos and data centres, McDowell said Compaq didn’t believe in forcing data centers and other enterprise businesses into adopting a new server architectural standard like NEBS.

“We think we should build on the architecture companies already have, rather than introduce a new architecture,” she said.

As QuickBlade products arrive next year, Compaq will deliver two-way and four-way server blades. These Intel Xeon processor-based server blades will take the architecture to the application server layer. The advantage of the two-way and four-way QuickBlade systems will be the ability to deliver application server performance while still getting the dense form factor and manageability associated with server blades.

A wave of competing server blade products from other major vendors like Compaq, IBM, Dell, and Sun will all begin to arrive next year, saturating a market already flush with server blade startups like RLX, and Racemi. But there has been no consensus amongst vendors as to how to build a common I/O enclosure to allow users to mix and match cross-vendor server blades.

The move by HP to cast an early standard for server blade design could be the lynchpin for an industry-wide battle over just how to build server blades, a battle expected to play out over the next 18 months, according to John Enck, a senior research director at Gartner Group Inc., in Stamford, Conn.