Just when Microsoft began shipping its WolfPack clustering technologytechnology from its acquisition of Tandem into the company's own ProLiant server family. Cliff Saran delves into the new server strategy. for Windows NT Server last week, Compaq announced a ProLiant cluster strategy and the promise of Fibre Channel storage products early next year. Both Tandem and Compaq offer clustering technology, but this is the first time since the companies merged early this summer that the strategies have been brought together. Tandem has traditionally concentrated its efforts at the high end with technology called ServerNet. Last week's announcement will see Compaq and Tandem offer an integrated, single clustering product strategy under the ProLiant Cluster banner, which will incorporate Tandem's ServerNet technology. ServerNet is a system bus architecture designed for data-centric applications. It allows servers, or nodes, to be connected together into clusters, and share a common data store such as a disk array. Tandem describes ServerNet as a unified interconnect designed to unify I/O tasks such as disk access with inter-process communications. This unification, according to Tandem, provides flexibility in supporting shared peripherals or shared databases. By sharing peripherals through ServerNet, Tandem says it is possible to support load balancing, so that the workload is shared across many peripherals. Fault tolerance is also available, so that if a device fails, another one switches to take its place. What this will mean is that Compaq customers will gain access to ServerNet on ProLiant servers running Microsoft Cluster Server (MSCS) on Windows NT. ServerNet is currently used in Tandem's high end Himalaya line of fault tolerant systems which run the Tandem NonStop Kernel operating system. MSCS, formerly known as WolfPack, is included in the Windows NT Server 4.0 Enterprise Edition. This is the so-called Phase I rollout of WolfPack, which delivers automatic failover so that when one server fails another takes over automatically. Through its ProLiant Cluster family, Compaq plans to deliver servers that support automatic failover using the MSCS support built into Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 Enterprise Edition. Using ServerNet, Compaq claims its new server family will be able to deliver the "uncompromisingly high levels of availability needed to run business critical applications". MSCS addresses the resilience issue by providing for automatic failover. However, using ServerNet, Compaq claims the ProLiant Cluster family can also deliver performance scaling across servers. This is not currently available using Microsoft software. The so-called Phase II rollout of WolfPack which supports performance scaling is a long way off. In fact, Microsoft said it will be only "going into beta at some time in 1998." Compaq will begin delivering scalable clusters based on ServerNet in the first quarter of 1998. According to Compaq, it will be able to provide Microsoft NT clusters that offer database performance scaling across server nodes to provide for scalable transaction processing and data warehousing using industry standard technology. The scalable servers will be based upon Compaq ProLiant servers, ServerNet interconnect and the Tandem CR1000 storage system. In a white paper detailing the clustering strategy, Compaq said that systems based on these technologies would address the needs of many users looking for scalability beyond the capability of a single server. Initially, Compaq said it would target the clustering technology at Oracle Parallel Server and Tandem SQL/MX database installations. Ian Derbyshire, a senior analyst at IDC, commented: "It appears that Compaq is breaking away from Microsoft's WolfPack timeline." He added: "It (Compaq) is looking to introduce multi-node clustering via ServerNet, but Microsoft has given no absolute dates to when it will release multi-node clustering for NT." The risk for anyone using Compaq technology, said Derbyshire, is that they will need to use Compaq's proprietary clustering APIs to develop their enterprise applications. However, Hugh Jenkins, server product manager at Compaq, claimed that individual developers would not have to worry about the underlying clustering architecture. This is based on VI (Virtual Interface Architecture), a lower level API to MSCS supported by several companies including Compaq, Intel and Microsoft. Instead, said Jenkins, "developers can write their applications using the higher level interface in Oracle Parallel Server and other server software which have been specifically optimised for performance scaling". Initially, Compaq is planning two ProLiant Cluster product ranges: the ProLiant Cluster Series S, based on SCSI technology, and the ProLiant Cluster F Series, which uses Fibre Channel. Compaq is positioning the S range for users who have an investment in SCSI-based storage products and require storage of between 10Gb and 50Gb. The F range, which uses Fibre Channel instead of SCSI, is the high end server family, which caters for storage requirements that go beyond 50Gb. Along with the announcement of the S and F ProLiant server families, Compaq has also announced ProLiant 1600, 1200, 5500 and 3000 servers. These servers feature a highly parallel system architecture. Compaq claims that the new architecture boosts system performance by doubling memory and PCI bandwidth. Along with the strategy for the ProLiant Cluster family, Compaq also announced last week that in the first quarter of 1998 it would be shipping storage products that use Fibre Channel technology. Fibre Channel is new storage technology which uses the same network cabling as Gigabit Ethernet, but is designed to link remote disk sub-systems to servers. It is positioned by Compaq as a high bandwidth alternative to SCSI, which is currently the industry standard way of connecting servers to storage sub systems. Data transfer rates of up to 100Gbps is attainable and several devices can be connected to the same cable. Compaq's implementation supports cables of up to 500 metres in length and data transfer rates of up to 100Mbps.
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