Same 32-way Server, Different Goals for Partners

Nowintroducing the ES7000 cellular multiprocessing (CMP) architecture, the stateof the art 32-processor, Intel-based server platform that may revolutionizehigh-end systems management. It’s brought to computing enthusiasts everywhereby … Unisys? Compaq? Both?

That willdepend on what kind of performance managers are looking for from the only32-way box of its kind. A little background should clear up the confusion.

UnisysCorp. (www.unisys.com) released the ES7000 as the first platformto fully support Windows 2000, a single unit scaleable beyond anythingpreviously produced for Intel processor-based products. But the platform isdesigned to also support multiple partitions as well as varying operatingsystems and processor technologies -- all on a single box. The idea is forcompanies to purchase the unit today, partition it for current NT systems usingAdvanced Server, and be in position to grow comfortably with Windows 2000servers as needed.

That’s theUnisys’ plan. But remember, this is Unisys -- a company with an excellentengineering tradition, but not a major player in moving equipment like the CMP.That's where Compaq Computer Corp. (www.compaq.com)comes in.

In lateJune, Unisys and Compaq finalized a two-year agreement through which CompaqOEMs the ES7000. Compaq will do so under its ProLiant brand. This is where thestory begins to take some twists that have analysts scratching their heads.

Compaq’sinterest in CMP is purely as a 32-processor box as a Windows 2000 databaseengine. Encouraging partitioning would compete with lower-scale systems Compaqalready offers, to say nothing of the Alpha Wildfire digital 32-way Unix-basedsystem that has made a lot of money for the company in the high-performancemarket. Compaq’s engineers added Compaq’s Insight Manager and Smart/Start forServers to the ProLiant version of the platform. Insight Manager is amanagement tool that consists of a Windows-based console application and server-or client-based management data collection agents. Smart/Start is a tool thatconfigures Compaq hardware, loads optimized drivers, and assists with softwareinstallation. It also provides functionality for integrating operating systemson Compaq servers to achieve optimum reliability and performance.

In anutshell, Compaq believes it has come up with a preferable alternative to whatotherwise is the same product.

“Partitioningthe system is not our No.1 view of it,” says Bernie Luksich, director for industrystandards, server group, at Compaq. “Our view is if a customer is going thatway, it’s better economics to go with racks of eight-way or four-way units.

“Thatdoesn’t mean we don’t think this is solid product that’s great architecturally,or that we don’t plan on promoting it very aggressively in the field. I wouldhope folks look at the two (ES7000) machines side by side, open them up to seehow they’re managed, and conclude that one has the Compaq edge to it.”

Luksichsays Compaq is planning a marketing push for the ProLiant version of the CMP inNovember. Unisys has been out on the street pushing CMP for some time, eventhough Microsoft Corp. (www.microsoft.com) has not yet released Datacenter Server.

“We have anagreement with ICL [International Computers Ltd.] to sell our broaderIntel-based server line as well as the ES7000,” says Unisys spokesman SteveHolzman. “Obviously we’re exploring others. We’re looking to really push thisserver architecture through OEM channels and turn it into an industry standardfor high-end Intel market spaces. Right now, there’s nothing like it, and wehave the opportunity take advantage of that.”

Byreputation, Compaq clearly is the major OEM partner. Unisys predicts profits of$400 million in sales over the two-year agreement term. Compaq could make morein service contract profits. Already, the Compaq name is having an impact.

“That[agreement] kind of tells you something,” says Tom Miele, director ofinfrastructure at Penn National Insurance (www.pennnationalinsurance.com), which recently purchased an ES7000 fromUnisys. “The fact that Compaq is behind the product made us feel better aboutthe value of it.”

But whathappens after the agreement expires?

DavidFriedlander, industry analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. (www.gigaweb.com), believes Compaq is using this agreementas an entrée into the high-end Intel platform arena and may well develop itsown 32-way unit in the near future -- that is if the market calls for it.

“This waslooked at as a win-win situation at first because it went a long way invalidating Unisys’ high-end strategy,” Friedlander says. “But the delay in therelease of Datacenter hurt them in the marketplace. No one will rush out andbuy Datacenter until they’re sure it works. Windows 2000 is selling great ondesktops, but the server isn’t yet.

“All therisk is with Unisys. Compaq has nothing to lose. But if it’s successful, Unisyswill benefit tremendously from the agreement.”

RobertDorin, analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. (www.aberdeen.com), isn’t certain such a high-end Intelsystem will become a particularly hot item in the near future.

“We’retalking what would right now be a small niche of the market,” Dorin says. “Thebottom line is most data center people want to minimize risk. They want to buywhat works, what other people run.”

Holzmanbelieves the Datacenter Server's delay was Microsoft making sure it got itright. As for Compaq’s future plans, he wouldn’t speculate.

“Alphadoesn’t support Windows,” Holzman says. “Compaq originally supported Windows onAlpha and got away from it. Where Compaq goes beyond CMP, only Compaq cananswer.”

And thatanswer is noncommittal.

“The marketwill decide how this plays out,” Luksich says. “We know what’s in place issolid. We’ll go down that path when the road map becomes a little more clear.”

[Sidebar] InsuranceFirm Prepares for 32-Way Deployment

Tom Mieleis convinced the 32-way Intel server platform recently released by Unisys willmake his life much easier. He’ll find out soon.

Miele isdirector of infrastructure for Penn National Insurance (www.pennnationalinsurance.com). The firmpurchased an ES7000 32-processor cellular multiprocessing (CMP) platform fromUnisys (www.unisys.com), which wasdelivered Aug. 4. Miele was to begin configuring by mid-August and to berunning some company applications on all 32 processors by the end of the year.The company plans to purchase Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 2000 Datacenter Serversometime after that.

But wait.Doesn’t the CMP require Datacenter Server to use all 32 processors? Not the wayit will be used initially at Penn National, which is still working off WindowsNT anyway.

“One of thethings we’ve been looking at for some time now is server consolidation, andthis addresses that problem immediately,” Miele says. “We have about 50NetWare-type servers that we plan to roll into the 32 processors. Managementwill become much simpler. As to when we’d deploy Windows 2000 and Datacenter,that’s a ways off for us.”

Miele saysPenn National would be moving actual policy processing, the bread and butter ofthe company’s use of system, off the mainframe onto the CMP during the firstphase of deployment. It will also be handling the filing and printing ofclaims, and possibly the company’s e-mail program soon after.

“We startedtalking with Unisys about stacking eight-way units, and they mentioned theywere unveiling the 32-way system,” Mile says. “We really were interested in tryingto get control of costs. It seemed like every time we put in an application, wewere adding another server. Then there’s protecting them, backing them up,keeping them upgraded -- it became more a problem than a solution.”

PennNational, a property casualty insurance company, has more than 1,000 agentsaround the country who work on policies using Web-based Citrix Systems Inc. (www.citrix.com) business applications. Miele says thecompany has 70 working servers, many as old as six years. The immediate benefitof a 32-way unit is a no-brainer.

So why notuse Compaq’s 32-way digital Unix system? Penn National makes use of a Unixplatform, as well.

“Thecompany decided to move primarily to an Intel platform a few years ago,” Mielesays. “That’s not to say Unix isn’t a good platform. We just decided to moveforward with Microsoft.  We found iteasier to manage with the number of applications available. It also seemedeasier to find technicians with NT experience than with Unix.”

Miele saysthe company’s move is probably best explained by a computerized world that hadbought into the Microsoft hype. Penn National wanted to be where everybody elseseemed to be going. But Miele still swears by the mainframe handling certain applications,and he doesn't expect that to change.

“It does alot of hefty batch processing at night for us with applications that aren’twritten elsewhere,” Miele says. “We’re not unplugging our mainframe. Right now,we’re looking at the ES7000 as a good solution for consolidating servers andright-sizing certain applications.

“I thinkwe’ll end up doing what most companies will do -- see what runs best where. I’mbetting this will bring about a lot more systems competition into theworkplace, which works out best for the customer.”