Stratus expands fault-tolerant server options

Stratus Technologies Inc. next week is expected to improve its line of fault-tolerant, Intel-based servers with the introduction of two boxes designed to give customers higher processing power at lower prices.

The midrange, one- to two-processor ftServer 5600 and the high-end two- to four-processor ftServer 6600 join the updated entry-level ftServer 3300 that Stratus introduced earlier this year. Stratus says it hopes its line of Intel-based boxes will attract customers that might not have considered the typically more expensive fault-tolerant hardware in the past.

Fault-tolerant servers include multiple system components that operate in lockstep so that if one component fails, the other continues working. The components are hot-swappable and modular so nonfunctioning parts can be removed and replaced without interfering with system performance, Stratus executives say.

With the new ftServer 5600 and the ftServer 6600, users will find smaller boxes that offer better processing power, increased memory and disk, and integrated redundant Gigabit Ethernet.

The company says the boxes, which start at $30,000 and $60,000, respectively, cost about half what their predecessors sold for when they were introduced a year ago.

The boxes’ size also has been reduced: The ftServer 5600 is a 6U system, while the ftServer 5240 it replaces could be configured at 12U or 14U. The boxes now support Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition.

In the past, fault-tolerant systems, such as Stratus’ Continuum line and NonStop servers from HP, have been expensive and big – geared for vertical markets such as the financial industry. One of Stratus’ competitors is Marathon Technologies, which recently filed for Chapter 11 reorganization but is “on the verge of emerging,” according to a spokeswoman.

With its ftServer line, Stratus is looking to attract a broader range of customers who might use the servers to handle Microsoft Exchange, for example, or critical database applications and server consolidation.

“The target is some portion of those people who are clustering today and, frankly, people who are not clustering, but would be willing to spend the money, but have found clustering to be too complicated,” says Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata.

While clusters could require complicated configurations, multiple operating systems and applications that are designed to run in a distributed fashion, the ftServers run one Windows operating system and applications without modification, says Denny Lane, director of product marketing for Stratus.

“With our technology you’re running one version of the operating system, so there is an inherent cost-savings, but you also don’t have to teach the application anything. It’s simpler,” he says. “People are pulling their hair out with clustering.”

Ron Ham, manager of Process IS Rayonier, Performance Fibers Group, says he has had his eye on Stratus machines for years, but they were always too expensive and too large for what he needed. The Jacksonville, Fla., company is a supplier of specialty fibers, timber and wood products. When Stratus introduced the ftServer 3300 in March, he jumped on it.

“Typically, Stratus was a half-million-dollar or US$250,000 solution that we very desperately wanted to get to, but it didn’t fit our model,” he says. “When they came out with the 3300 (which starts at $23,000) it was more attractively priced and engineered to compete with the cluster technology of Microsoft.”

Ham says the success he’s had with the ftServer 3300 is pushing him to consider bringing in more ftServer boxes, which he might use to replace Microsoft clusters.

“The success of the smaller system is going to make us want to take a look at the larger systems,” he says.

“We will want to consider the larger machines in comparison with the (storage-area network) and other things we are developing,” he adds.