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NEC wants to be highly available

NEC Solutions America Inc. officials are releasing a fault-tolerant server that they say will make the company far more competitive in the market for high-availability servers. These servers have fail-safes to ensure that only an event so catastrophic even Nostradamus couldn't have foreseen it would cause an interruption in service.

The NEC Express5800/340 is almost two servers in one, said Brad Lightner, director of product and solution integration in NEC's solutions group. It has two motherboards and two sets of Intel Corp. Xeon processors. They run in lockstep, meaning that if one should fail, the other can take over immediately.

"You have a lot of people talking about high availability, and you have a lot of people trying to emulate fault tolerance," Lightner said. "There is only one way to do fault tolerance, and that's with full redundancy."

The server's components are hot-swappable, so managers can change them without interrupting the machine's work, he said. Lightner said that the server can run with less than five minutes of downtime a year, compared with about 44 hours in servers that are not fault-tolerant.

Lightner said he expects the product, and the general approach of redundancy, to be competitive with clusters. In clusters, multiple processors churn away at different pieces of a processing problem. Cluster configurations also provide failover protection. Other processors can pick up the slack if one fails, but clusters are not as agile as high-availability servers, whose processors operate in tandem, he said.

Lightner said he believes the market will extend in obvious directions such as homeland security and military applications. But he also thinks that a demand will surface even in mundane applications such as interoffice messaging.

"As simple as we think e-mail is, if an e-mail server goes down, a company can absolutely be lost," he said.

Who's there?

Vintela Inc. officials have released Version 2.6 of Vintela Authentication Services, an authentication product that can bridge the gap between Microsoft Corp.'s Windows and Unix and Linux systems. Called VAS, the technology allows single sign-on capabilities in mixed-platform

organizations.

The new version includes support for more platforms than its predecessors, adding IBM Corp.'s AIX Unix 5.1 and 5.2 and Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris 9 x86 platforms and Solaris 2.6 on Sun's SPARC platform.

VAS includes a developer's kit with the needed programming interfaces to integrate it with Microsoft Active Directory using such standards as Kerberos and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol.

Although focused so far mostly on commercial customers, Vintela president David Wilson said the federal government is the company's next target. "We're starting the process of raising the awareness [of Vintela] within government," he said. "We think [the federal government] could be a substantial market."

Hardware to go

JLT Mobile Computers Inc. officials will soon introduce a ruggedized mobile computer called G-Force 850. Intended for military, field service and public safety users, the system weighs less than 4 pounds and features a high-quality 8.4-inch display and five hours of battery life.

The battery is hot-swappable, so users can switch one out for a fresh one without interrupting operations.

MetaPass Inc. officials have created the MetaPass M500 Digital Key, a pocket-sized device that allows automatic log-in to any Web site, application or terminal, with no need to type passwords because the key stores them. Plug it into the computer's USB port, enter an identification number, and the key provides any passwords needed during the session.

The key needs no software installed on the computer, so it can be used when traveling or using a borrowed computer. The identification number guards against unauthorized use.

Corrent Corp.'s network security products are not new, but the company recently won a spot on the General Services Administration schedule contracts, extending its reach into the government.

The company develops firewalls and virtual private network (VPN) security appliances intended to protect computers against a common type of attack. In the attack, called a distributed denial-of-service attack, hundreds or thousands of brain-eating zombies ...no, "zombie" computers ...often under control of a worm or virus, bombard a chosen Web site with so many requests so fast that the system is overwhelmed and becomes unavailable.

During such an attack, legitimate visitors to the site will get an error message.

Corrent's security appliances are able to drop malicious data packets quickly, keeping the network's bandwidth free for legitimate traffic, company officials said.

The same hardware acceleration technology that keeps the pipes clear also speeds the processing of VPN encryption.

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