New wares from Compaq

Compaq Computer Corp. aims to consolidate its lead in the federal network server market with four new servers announced today that offer high-availability features and multiple processors at a low price. The midrange servers smooth over gaps in the company's product line between powerful PCs that customers use as servers and the high end of the ProLiant server line according to Gary Newgaard Compaq's director of federal sales and marketing.

"I think this gives us a lot of ammunition particularly if you look at the cost benefits of the Intel [Corp.] platform compared to RISC/Unix systems " he said. Compaq's Intel-based servers will cost as little as one-fifth as much to own and operate over their life span as Unix machines Newgaard said. "The cost of the hardware is small. The cost is in the overhead of hiring Unix experts and the charges for software upgrades."

According to IDC Government Compaq held the top spot among server vendors selling to the federal government in fiscal 1996 with 28.4 percent of the market - up nearly 40 percent over the year before. Dell held second place with 20.9 percent followed by Digital Equipment Corp. with 16 percent and Hewlett-Packard Co. with 3 percent.

"Primarily Compaq's success is due to the fact that the company is respected for its quality " said Payton Smith research analyst for IDC Government. "Server buyers are not necessarily looking for the best prices they can find " he said. "They want something reliable that they can count on and Compaq has a good reputation for that." In fact in a study of brand perception by federal computer buyers Compaq was overwhelmingly labeled as "reliable " Smith said.

The new ProLiant 1200 is a uniprocessor Pentium II-based server. The ProLiants 1600 and 3000 can run dual Pentium II chips and the ProLiant 5500 packs a maximum of four Pentium Pro chips. All the new servers run Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT Server and support Windows NT server-clustering software known by its code name "Wolfpack."

Compaq also introduced speedy capacious new 10 000 RPM disk drives in 4.3G and 9.1G capacities that the company claims are 26 percent faster on average than 7200 rpm devices. Compaq unveiled new Fibre Channel controllers that permit customers to attach as many as 126 devices to a single Fibre Channel loop and to locate storage devices as far as 500 meters from the server. Compaq said it is testing improvements that will extend that range to 10 kilometers early next year.

The new servers will find their niche with customers who were accustomed to settling for a standard PC in the role of a network server because of the high cost of systems that were designed as servers said Jerry Sheridan server analyst for Dataquest.

"The server market was above $10 000 " he said. "It was an economic decision to force a PC to work as a server."

"The new models fill in some holes Compaq has had for a while. With these new ProLiants it fills in their entire family. Our federal customers are really going to like these options " said Mark Thoreson Government Technology Services Inc.'s inside sales manager.

Sheridan said he expects the affordable server market to be one of high volume but low profit margins for Compaq a situation that should benefit federal buyers. The company hopes that these products will help it gain entry into customers' enterprise computing operations where it also can offer products ranging up to high-end machines from Tandem Computers Inc. which was recently purchased by Compaq. "Now they bring to the table a complete story from notebooks to supercomputers " Sheridan said.

With the new products Compaq has comprehensively addressed a shortcoming of PCs that are used as servers: availability. All the new ProLiant models feature redundant hot-swap power supplies hot-swap disk drives and hot-swap PCI slots an emerging technology that Compaq has developed and is pushing as a new standard according to Sheridan.

The company also addresses performance issues with a parallel architecture that includes dual-memory controllers dual-peer PCI buses and support for multiple processors on three of the models. The dual-memory controllers boost the speed of the memory and the amount of RAM that may be installed with a total of 1.07G per second of bandwidth and 12 DIMM sockets for memory expansion.

Despite all the new features Compaq adhered to industry standards when it boosted the capability of its servers so that customers are not risking investment in potentially dead-end incompatible proprietary equipment said Bob Schultz Compaq's director of marketing. "Our customers tell us the best way to provide technology is through industry-standard platforms rather than through a proprietary approach."

One example is the inclusion of 32-bit Extended Industry Standard Architecture expansion slots in the new servers. This lets customers with EISA server management cards disk controllers and network adapt-ers install those cards in the new servers if they want. Compaq led development of EISA as an industry standard a number of years ago. Ultimately local bus designs from the Video Electronics Standards Association and then Intel displaced it as the preferred way to install high-performance expansion cards.

Compaq's newly acquired Tandem computers do not fit the industry-standard description but the company has a very long-term plan to migrate the Tandem systems to Intel processors as soon as Intel offers 64-bit chips with performance comparable to the MIPS chips currently in use Sheridan said.

All the new servers enjoy improved performance through clustering additional systems with Windows NT Cluster Server. The trick with these new servers is that Compaq has managed to add value while bundling together industry-standard multiprocessing and clustering technology with its high-availability features hot-swap components and bundled management software Sheridan said. "Compaq has an innovative stream running through all of its products " he said.

Currently the Department of Veterans Affairs the Defense Information Systems Agency and Air Force customers through the Desktop V contract are some of Compaq's best server customers Newgaard said. The company has especially benefited from the federal government's rapid adoption of Windows NT Server he said. "The acceptance of Windows NT Server in the federal community has been astounding."

The ProLiant 5500 will run as many as four 200 MHz Pentium Pro chips and hold as much as 3G of RAM. A single processor and 128M of RAM are standard for the expected $8 500 commercial street price. Federal availability and pricing for the new servers was not yet available. It comes in tower and rack-mount versions and has eight expansion slots. Five of the slots are PCI and three are shared PCI/EISA. The number of drive bays depends on the height of the disk drives installed. The ProLiant 5500 will hold as many as eight 1-inch-high hot-swap disk drives internally and has two bays for removable media devices in addition to a CD-ROM drive and a 3.5-inch floppy disk drive in their own bays.

The ProLiant 3000 has an estimated street price of $6 700 and includes a 300 MHz Pentium II chip 64M of RAM that is expandable to 512M and eight expansion slots and eight one-inch hot-swap drive bays.

The ProLiant 1600 has a 266 MHz Pentium II processor four hot-swap drive bays six expansion slots and a maximum capacity of 512M of RAM for an estimated street price of $4 400. Both the 3000 and the 1600 models will accept a second Pentium II chip for multiprocessing.

The ProLiant 1200 has a single 233 MHz processor four hot-swap drive bays and six expansion slots for an estimated street price of $3 100.

-- Carney is free-lance writer based in Herndon Va.

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