Compaq, NuView Back Microsoft Cluster Server

When Microsoft Cluster Server (MSCS) was introduced, the product was criticized, mostly for its inability to scale beyond two nodes and its lack of load balancing capability.

But Compaq Computer Corp. and NuView Inc. (Houston, announced support for MSCS, each in their own way.

On the hardware front, Compaq endorsed MSCS as the next-generation clustering solution for Windows NT environments. For starters, Compaq certified all its servers and storage technology as MSCS-compatible. Also, Compaq is working with Microsoft to achieve the scalability of MSCS beyond two nodes. "The two-node limit is a restriction we want to see go away," says Vince Gayman, high-availability marketing manager, Compaq Industry Standard Server Division. "But even in Unix environments, where scaling beyond two nodes is possible, most customer’s are only using two node deployments anyway."

For low-end clusters, the fact that Microsoft defined the API for HA fail-over clustering may be enough to make it the de facto standard, but only in the low-end segment. "MSCS doesn’t play in the enterprise level at all," says Tony Iams, vice president, system software and midrange systems, D.H. Brown (Port Chester, N.Y.), a market analysis firm.

Scaling beyond two nodes certainly happens in Unix environments, and there are advantages to adding that ability to Windows NT shops as well. If one server can backup three or four servers, it’s more cost-efficient. And scaling beyond two nodes provides fail-safe capability if more than one node in a cluster or more than one application fails.

Just as important, though, is the simple fact that when the number of nodes increase, so does the effectiveness of each server within the cluster. For instance, when clustering with two nodes, each server can only be loaded with half of its full capacity. In case of fail-over, each system needs to be capable of assuming the demands of the other. But with three servers, each machine can be loaded to 66 percent capacity, and the number increases with each new node.

"Fibre Channel technology, storage area networks and the need for high-availability also will drive the need for clustering to go beyond two nodes," Iams says. For example, at companies with a need to make Lotus Notes or Microsoft Exchange highly available, clustering is becoming an accepted way of providing said high-availability.

As with most Microsoft products, success comes from industry support. Compaq’s Gayman says applications that require MSCS to extend beyond two nodes will appear in the next phase of availability, which should occur sometime next year. "Most ISVs are looking for a simple, one-platform solution to make it easier," Gayman says, "In the long run, that will make Cluster Server the product most customers move toward."

One such software developer is NuView, the company that sold Manage X to Hewlett-Packard Co. NuView recently announced Cluster X, a clustering management solution that resides on top of MSCS, and enables administrators to manage clustering. Rahul Mehta, president of NuView, maintains that MSCS is a good product, that experiencing slow deployment because the notion of clustering with Windows NT has been slow to get off the ground. "I don’t think people understand the cluster market," he says. "They just want to know if their servers are up or down."

Cluster X is complementary to MSCS, providing a means to manage the clusters bound by MSCS, unlike other third-party clustering products, such as Full Time Enterprise. This suite of clustering products for both Windows NT and Unix, from Full Time Software Inc. (Langhorne, Pa.,, essentially competes with MSCS.

The next phase of MSCS availability likely will coincide with the release of Windows NT 5.0, now known as Windows 2000. "NT 5.0 will have a number of features specifically designed to enhance the enterprise capabilities of the OS," says D.H. Brown’s Iams. "I expect to see stronger clustering technology in NT 5.0."