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Issue of February 2003 
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Server Showcase

There are so many options available when it comes to choosing commercial enterprise servers. Each vendor has a different way of classifying its servers. Here's a look at how vendors are positioning their power boxes at enterprises. by Brian Pereira

If you went out to buy a car from the Indian market thirty years ago, your choices were limited to an Ambassador, a Fiat or a Standard Herald. Maruti came much later. Now you have a choice of Indian, American, Japanese, Korean, or European cars. These are available in varying sizes with different designs and seating capacities. And they're available in Petrol or Diesel versions—in different price ranges. This wide choice has made purchasing cars a difficult task for consumers. Buyers will select a car based on the attributes they require, for the best price of course. And it's exactly the same with servers—in a crowded server market, application and business requirement comes first.

As with automobiles, there is no single classification for servers; vendors classify their server portfolios in various ways. Servers may be classified by number of processors; by application (high-availability, back-end servers, front-end servers, network edge servers); by form factor (pedestal, rack, blade); by platform (RISC/Unix flavors, Itanium / Linux, Itanium / Windows), or by segment (entry-level, midrange, high-end).

Generally 1- 4 processor systems are entry-level; 8 - 16 way systems are midrange; servers with 16 CPUs and above are considered high-end. The 32-CPU (or more) systems fall in the mainframe or supercomputer class.
Server vendors cater to various business requirements through various product lines. Here's a summary of the product lines from leading server manufacturers, and also their strategies to gain/maintain leadership.

Right from the days of mainframes, IBM has been constantly developing server technology. It now offers a full line of data transaction, Web application and appliance servers that follow open industry standards. IBM has been actively pursuing Linux servers in recent years. In October 2000 it reclassified its portfolio of servers to the eServer range.

The eServer portfolio begins with the xSeries (erstwhile Netfinity servers)—a range of entry-level, Intel-based servers. Then comes iSeries (formerly AS/400e)—the integrated midrange business servers. The p-Series (formerly RS6000) are RISC/Unix servers.

At the high-end comes the zSeries and S390 mainframe class servers.

The IBM eServer product portfolio could also be classified as Blade servers (xSeries Servers - Blade Centre & Blade Centre HS20), Intel Processor based servers (xSeries Servers—Rack optimized, Universal), Unix Servers (pSeries Servers—Entry , Mid-range & High-end), Midrange Servers (iSeries Servers—Small business & workgroups, Medium Businesses & Large Businesses), Mainframe Servers (zSeries Servers 800, 900, S/390 G5/G6 & S/390 Multiprise 3000) and Cluster Servers (Cluster 1350 & Cluster 1600).

Apart from its support and services offerings, the company also offers finance and leasing facilities to its customers through IBM Global Financing.

Strategy: M. Ganesh, Country Manager, Enterprise Systems Group, IBM India says the company's strategy is to provide industry leading performance servers, based on mainframe-inspired technologies and self-managing technology, shared across the server range. "These new technologies will offer unparallel e-business and server consolidation capabilities to enable customers to build less complex, but flexible and scalable server infrastructure to keep them ahead of the competition and significantly reduce total cost of ownership."

IBM's e-business on demand sets the agenda for its future server business. "We will work with our customers to offer server deployment choice—Linux on all server platforms, open protocols, grid computing, and technologies that allow customers to integrate their existing e-business infrastructures with our solutions. And if we properly support open protocols and give customers deployment choice, they will choose our solutions. They don't want to be trapped with only one option."

Ganesh adds that IBM will be working closely with its business partners and ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) to jointly develop solutions that cater to all industries and across all segments.

Sun Microsystems is the last bastion of the proprietary RISC/Unix servers. Even as other RISC server vendors (like IBM and HP) walk the road to open standards, Sun stubbornly holds on to RISC. Sun remains vertical, with its own server hardware (UltraSparc processor), operating system (Solaris) and Solaris applications.

At the entry-level Sun has its 1 - 4 processor systems that include SunFire V100, V120, 280R and V480.
SunFire V880, 3800, 4800 & 6800 are classified as mid-range systems in terms of features and price, and the range extends from 8 to 24 processors. Sun calls this range Mid-Frame since this range presents mainframe class RAS features at midrange prices.

Sun's high-end systems are mainframe class in terms of scalability and RAS; these are essentially used for consolidation applications. This range consists of SunFire 12000 and SunFire 15000 with a CPU scalability of up to 106 CPUs in SMP architecture.

Sun servers are also classified on the basis of packaging and applications. For example, under the SunFire Servers there are Rack Servers. The Sun Netra Servers are telco-grade NEBS compliant servers. Then there are Server appliances such as the Sun Cobalt Server.

Strategy: Anil Valluri, director-Systems Engineering, Sun Microsystems India, says the challenge for Sun is not to increase market share, but to grow the market itself by exploring new segments and applications, and creating demand. "Sun is also very focused in growing the Indian ISV community through the Sun Developer Network to make most of the applications available on Sparc/Solaris platform."

Unlike other vendors HP refrains from classifying its servers as entry-level, midrange and high-end. Instead, HP classifies its server products in terms of performance and capacity. The company has a history of acquiring companies that manufactured servers; notable acquisitions include Tandem and Compaq Computer (Compaq acquired Digital Equipment Corp.)

Today HP offers four lines of servers. In addition to its proprietary platform (PA-RISC with HP-UX operating system), it has the Proliant range (acquired from Compaq), the Alpha servers (from Digital), and the Non Stop Himalaya range (from Tandem). In addition, HP also offers Itanium-based servers and Telco or carrier-grade servers.

Proliant servers: The Proliant range are industry standard servers (with Intel Xeon, Pentium III and Pentium 4 processors). These systems are optimized for Windows, NetWare and Linux environments. The Proliant line has three subfamilies: Proliant ML (pedestal), Proliant DL (density/rack optimized), and Proliant BL (blade) servers.

  • Proliant ML subfamily includes the ML 300 series (2-way), ML 500 series (4-way) and ML 700 series (8-way).
  • Proliant DL subfamily includes the DL 300 series (2-way), DL 580 (4-way) and DL 780 (8-way).
  • Proliant BL subfamily comprises the e-Class (ProLiant BL10e) and the p-Class (ProLiant BL20p). These are blade servers that are used in environments where floor space is a major constraint and high computing power is not a necessity.

In addition, the Proliant family includes the tc series aimed at the price sensitive market that does not require the management and frills associated with the typical Proliant server. The tc 2100 series is positioned at the SMB market.

PA-RISC servers: These servers go back to the days of proprietary RISC/Unix servers. Even though HP is moving towards standard industry systems (Itanium servers), it continues to develop its PA-RISC processor and the HP-UX operating system.

The high-end HP Superdome server is available in different configurations ranging from 1 - 64 CPUs. These systems (and others in the PA-RISC line) use PA-8700 series processors.

Next comes the HP-UX midrange and entry-level servers. These include the rp2400 series (1-2 CPUs), rp5400 series (1-4 CPUs), rp7400 series (1-8 CPUs), and rp 8400 series (2-16 CPUs).

Itanium servers: HP co-developed the Itanium processor with Intel. Naturally it has a long roadmap for Itanium systems. Currently, HP offers rack optimized servers with Itanium 2 processors. The current line includes the rx2600 (1-2 CPUs) and rx5670 (1-4 CPUs).

Pallab Talukdar, Director, Business Critical Servers, HP informs that in the next six to eight months HP will introduce 8-way and 16-way Itanium servers that will be midrange systems.

Alpha servers: The Alpha line is still significant for HP as it has several major business installations around the world. Many Indian enterprises still use Alpha servers that were purchased from the erstwhile Digital and then Compaq. So HP continues to launch new Alpha systems and software, and offer support.

The AlphaServer line includes the DS series (ultra-thin rack mount and entry-level desktop systems), GS series (systems for power and scalability), ES series (mainframe performance at a midrange price).

NonStop servers: These systems are meant for critical business applications. They are high-availability machines that run round the clock. NonStop servers are used for OLTP (online transaction processing) in some stock exchanges in the country. These systems were originally built by Tandem Computers (long acquired by HP). The NonStop server line includes the S76 family, S86000, and S74 series.

Strategy: Commenting on HP's server strategy Talukdar said the company would focus on key technology drivers like consolidation, server partitioning, and the move to Web-based application development. He said HP would also work closely with partners like Oracle and BEA Systems to drive application demand. HP would also concentrate its energies on its services group.

"We also have Adaptive Infrastructure which is our strategy for servers and our services," he said.

After conquering the PC market Dell hopes it can be as successful with networking products. And Servers form a key part of its strategy. The Dell PowerEdge server range comprises of the Value Towers, Performance Towers and rack servers.

Dell's Value Towers are the PowerEdge SC products. PowerEdge SC600 uses Celeron or Pentium 4 CPUs. The PowerEdge 1600SC is dual-Xeon processor capable and supports Hyper-threading technology.

The Performance Tower products include PowerEdge 2600, PowerEdge 4600 and PowerEdge 6600. The products scale from 6 GB RAM capacity on the PowerEdge 2600 to 32 GB of RAM on the PowerEdge 6600 and all have ECC and Chipkill technology.

The 5U, dual-Xeon PowerEdge 2600 is recommended for local and distributed workgroup applications where availability, performance and expandability are crucial.

The 6U, dual-Xeon PowerEdge 4600 is ideal for medium to large businesses, corporations and public organizations running applications that require high performance, extensive I/O and fast memory throughput.

The PowerEdge 6600 can be powered by up to four Xeon CPUs in its 7U chassis. Business-critical applications that need scalable, multi-processing performance, large on-die cache and higher bandwidth I/O will benefit from this enterprise-class server.

The rack servers range from the 1U PowerEdge 350 to the 7U, eight CPU PowerEdge 8450. Also included in this family are the 1U, dual-CPU PowerEdge 1650; the 2U, dual-Xeon PowerEdge 2650; the 4U, four-CPU PowerEdge 6650. The newest member of this family is the PowerEdge 1655MC—Dell's first modular blade product for high density and uptime.

Acer's servers have been used at branch offices, in workgroups or as departmental servers. It has a range of entry-level to lower midrange servers that are targeted at the SME market. The lineup includes pedestal servers and rack optimized servers—all powered by Intel processors (Xeon and Pentium 4).

Both the Altos G300 and Altos G510 are entry-level infrastructure servers (DNS/Wins, DHCP, DC, DS) or file & print servers. They can host small custom applications or front-end Internet applications (messaging, Web hosting, caching, firewall etc). They can also be used for messaging or as SAN compute nodes. Altos G300 is a single processor system (Pentium 4) while Altos G510 is a dual processor (Xeon) system.

Altos G700 and R700 are dual processor (Xeon) systems which can act as midrange infrastructure servers or file & print servers. They can also be configured as front-end Internet servers. In addition they can act as SAN compute nodes or for HPCC.

The top-of-the-line Altos G900 is powered by Xeon MP (4 CPUs). It is suitable for Internet and e-commerce applications (Web hosting and supply-chain management). It can host e-commerce backend databases and traditional OLTP and also for enterprise messaging, ERP; as a terminal server or for server consolidation.

Strategy: "Acer Altos servers have traditionally been strong in the BFSI (Banking, Financial Services and Insurance) sectors," says Sam Oommen Thomas, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Acer India. "The plan is to focus on other growth segments (Govt./PSU, EoUs, Telcos/ISPs/ASPs), through a combination of new partners and new server/storage solutions."

Brian Pereira can be reached at

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