Two vendors roll out high-end access servers

Two specialized data and file access server vendors have expanded their product lines beyond workgroup and department-level markets with systems that target the mainframe-class enterprise environment.

Network Appliance Inc. and Falcon Systems Inc. each manufacture servers based on standard Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) storage architecture and using industry-standard components but with proprietary operating systems designed specifically to give end users high-speed access to data or files across a network.

Network Appliance Santa Clara Calif. last week introduced the NetApp F630 while Falcon Systems Sacramento Calif. last month began shipping the FastfilePro 9000. Both products target environments where databases scale up to a terabyte and beyond and response time approaches 5 milliseconds.

Federal customers have needed this kind of capacity for a while said Sam O'Daniel the Network Appliance regional manager who handles the federal market.

"We have a couple of terabyte-size customers now and they have been getting by having multiple machines " O'Daniel said. The NetApp F630 will be welcome for "the ease of administration and simplicity of having one [or two servers] instead of five " he said.

The NetApp F630 more than doubles the capacity and throughput of its midrange product the F230 said Robert Hamilton senior product manager for the new product. Using new 9G hard disk drives the F630 stores up to 459G of data with support for external 5.25-inch tape drives and tape libraries. The system is based on Digital Equipment Corp.'s Alpha reduced instruction-set computer processors.

Network Appliance's file servers - which also include the F210 for workgroup customers and the F230 for department-level use - employ a software-based implementation of RAID 4 storage because it provides faster response time than a hardware counterpart the company said. According to Network Appliance the new server which can perform about 3 600 operations per second has a response time of 5 to 8 milliseconds depending on the configuration.

Carl Howe director of network strategies at Forrester Research said Network Appliance's products provide "some pretty amazing performance.... Assuming you have the high bandwidth you can fetch data off it more quickly than off your [local] hard disk " he said.

The new server supports multiple network options including Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet single- and dual-attach Fiber Distributed Data Interface and Asynchronous Transfer Mode.

Availability

Network Appliance plans to add the new product to its existing government vehicles including the company's General Services Administration schedule.The products also are available on NASA's Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement from Sylvest Management Systems Corp. the National Institutes of Health's Electronic Computer Store from FDC Technologies Inc. and the Air Force's Integration for Command Control Communications Computers and Intelligence from BTG Inc.

Commercial pricing for the F630 - available next month - starts at $70 000 for a diskless system with 128M of ECC memory and 2M of NVRAM.Falcon's FastfilePro 9000 - introduced in April along with a FastfilePro 5000 workgroup server - can be configured with up to 3.1 terabytes of storage using a hardware-based RAID Level 0 configuration. Response time ranges between 8.6 and 6.1 milliseconds depending on the configuration the company said.

Falcon uses a hardware-based version of RAID because it scales better than a software approach said Al Lehman Falcon's vice president of technology. "There are places for software RAID but we chose not to do that " Lehman said.

Falcon offers different levels of RAID so that users can choose one depending on their particular application he said.

The FastfilePro 9000 also features Falcon's Journal Automation System (JAS) which helps ensure data reliability Lehman said. In the event of a power failure a journal file system will retain existing file volumes so that data and files will not be corrupted.

JAS will make the file volumes available after an outage in less than 60 seconds compared with hours in other systems Lehman said. Additionally JAS includes a Write Accelerator that improves performance for such write-intensive tasks as graphics and video applications the company said.Across its product line Falcon now uses Intel Corp.'s Pentium Pro 200 MHz chip to manage data transfers with dedicated PCI RAID processors handling all RAID functions. Falcon network options include FDDI 10Base-T and 100Base-T. However the company also offers Fibre Channel connectivity which can transmit data files at speeds up to 1 066 megabit/sec.

Falcon's FastfilePro server line is available on the GSA schedule from BTG and AVR Enterprises and on NASA's SEWP II from Unisys Corp. The company also expects to have its own GSA schedule in the near future said Lianne Morgan Falcon's director of marketing.

A FastfilePro 9000 with 168G of storage 128M of ECC RAM a 1G mirrored boot drive and 10Base-T or 100Base-T networking costs $175 660.

Moving Up

Both vendors made their entrance at the low end of the market but are now pushing into the high-end market where they will compete with vendors such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc. - vendors that produce large-scale general-purpose servers - as well as Auspex Systems a specialist in high-end very high-availability data servers.

Numerous agencies have used these products for years including NASA the intelligence community and several Defense Department organizations.While organizations are used to using general servers at the high end - servers that also host applications or databases - Network Appliance and Falcon are positioning their systems as attractive alternatives because of the relatively low price and simple management.

As a rule computer systems "keep getting more complicated but there is a real market for stuff that is getting simpler " Forrester's Howe said. These specialized servers appeal to that notion because they focus so narrowly on file and data access Howe said.

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