Over the Net -- Servers Rule

You'll "love" the variety of servers on the market today

by / November 30, 1998
When Andre Agassi or Pete Sampras steps onto the tennis court, spectators -- and opponents -- anticipate smashing serves in excess of 120 miles per hour. In tennis, a good server holds a huge advantage, and while computing has no clay courts or Wimbledon, a good PC server is essential to taking care of business over the Net.

Internet, intranet and e-commerce deployments are growing, and many state and local government agencies are upgrading their networks and installing the latest generation of servers. Thanks to heated competition in the PC-server market and advances in technology, prices will continue to go down even as power and features climb. Computer Economics, a private research company, is predicting that in the next two years, prices should drop about 19 percent for enterprise and departmental PC servers, and 23 percent for workgroup and entry-level PC servers.

Server Types

A server is a computer or a software package that provides a specific kind of service to client software running on other computers. A Web server enables Internet browsing. If the server is down, browsing is disabled. A server computer, or host, can have several different software packages or applications running on it, thus providing those services to network clients.

There are three basic types of server: * A file server/print server stores the programs and data files shared by users. It acts like a remote disk drive. A file server stores the programs and data, while the print server is a computer in a network that controls one or more printers. It stores the print-image output from all users of the system and feeds it to the printer one job at a time. * In the client/server environment, the application server contains not only users' data files (word processing documents, spreadsheets, databases and so on) but also the applications themselves, which are executed directly from the servers instead of from the users' hard disks.

* A computer that provides World Wide Web services on the Internet requires a Web server. It includes the hardware, software, operating system, Web-server software, TCP/IP protocols and the Web-site content -- the Web page itself. If the Web server is for internal use, it is an intranet.

The global market for Internet-server software continues to grow and many top-seeded vendors, such as Oracle and IBM, are in the process of integrating Internet functionality into their products. Today, Netscape is the major Web-server software provider. However, Netscape is feeling the pressure of competition from UNIX and Microsoft's NT.

Old Champs and Hot Young Turks

Not long ago, Novell's Netware server, which mainly managed files and printers on a LAN, was the only game in town. UNIX and IBM's OS/2 servers were mainly used in government to run specialized applications such as GIS.

Currently, Microsoft NT has become a dominant network operating system (NOS), surpassing Novell's NetWare. However, many companies are integrating NetWare and NT to run their applications.

Novell's latest version of its network operating system, NetWare 5.0, was launched early this year, giving the company an early start on rival Microsoft. NetWare 5.0's new directory is not only capable of managing NetWare networks, but also those of Microsoft's NT and Sun Microsystems' Solaris and UNIX.

While it may appear that Windows NT is the biggest challenger to NetWare for the standard operating system for print and file servers, some argue that it is posing an even greater challenge to UNIX. Both UNIX and NT operating systems for servers are 32-bit, and both run on a variety of platforms.

UNIX has been in use for more than 25 years. It's not unusual for UNIX to run multiprocessing systems with more than 30 processors. That's something that neither NT or NetWare can handle today. The symmetric multiprocessing technology trend in the UNIX market is the prime force in server reliability. UNIX comes in several versions.

Microsoft recently began shipping the second beta version of NT 5.0. The beta, which includes beta versions of NT Workstation, NT Servers and NT Enterprise, is expected to hit the consumer market early next year.

Compaq, which announced in September that its ProLiant and ProSignia servers are certified to run the NetWare 5.0 operating system, also announced early support of Microsoft's Windows NT 5.0.

IBM said a second version of the company's WorkSpace On-Demand client- and server-based software, used for centrally controlling desktop applications, will roll out late this year along with a beta version of the company's latest OS/2 Warp Server operating system, code-named Aurora. Executives said that by early next year, the WorkSpace On-Demand software package will support 32-bit Windows applications.

Playing Safe, Playing Smart

Sometimes, the best server investment is not more RAM, a faster processor, a better disk system or even more bandwidth. Sometimes, the best investment is performance-monitoring procedures and tools.

When a server runs out of RAM, it must tap additional resources from its hard drive. This hurts server performance, and the entire system may slow down. Therefore, monitoring procedures should include regular checks to determine how often the server is using its hard drive in this fashion.

If a processor is working at more than 90 percent of capacity, it loses efficiency, so the ability to monitor processor utilization is also crucial. Many operating systems provide tools for checking processor utilization and to indicate when an upgrade is necessary. Traffic overload on network subsystems can also indicate a need to upgrade.

Government agencies, concerned about productivity and the types of material employees download from the Internet, may choose to monitor how computers are used. Proxy servers and monitors or protocol sniffers can perform these functions.

Leveling the Court

Intel is trying to accelerate Standard High-Volume (SHV) server models into higher-performance market segments to enable business users to establish a common Intel-based server infrastructure.

In an effort to accelerate the deployment of UNIX on Intel-base servers, Intel is joining forces with leading UNIX OS vendors and peripheral hardware manufacturers.

There is also growing industry support for the Server System Infrastructure (SSI) initiative. Leading SSI council members and participants -- Intel, Compaq, Data General, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Micron Electronics and NEC -- are helping to drive an open industry specification for power supplies and electronics-bay design. By developing specifications for common server elements, manufacturers can focus on marketing new technology faster and minimizing system integration time and expense. In addition, the industry would be able to redirect research and development investments into areas of server technology that offer a high degree of end-user benefit. This could lead to lower procurement costs, increased supply flexibility and fewer incompatible parts.

Nonstop Action

Minutes of network downtime can be measured in tens of thousands of lost dollars. Data is vulnerable between backups, and the cost of replacing damaged parts is minuscule compared to the cost of losing business hours or important data. To provide extra reliability and to protect data, a new technology called clustering has been developed.

Unfortunately, many organizations are not protected because of the misperception that clustering is expensive or too difficult to implement.

Wolfpack, introduced by Microsoft, enables two or more PC servers to back each other up. It combines their processing, and, if one fails, the processing load shifts to the other.

Another method of guarding against downtime is "mirroring." Duplicate files or data are written into a separate hard disk partition, or even onto a computer in another location. A mirror is essentially a backup that's instantly ready in case the original goes down.

Servers are now also offering features such as "hot plug," allowing users to replace failed drives without shutting down the server.

Some small organizations don't have the time, money, or computer resources to run their own server connected to the Internet, so they rent space on an Internet service provider's server. This generally costs between $15 to $200 a month. Many European state and local government agencies are using ISPs in this way.

The Players

Intel Pentium II Xeon

Intel's 450MHz Pentium II Xeon processor -- the company's fastest processor for midrange and higher servers -- is made for environments in which power, speed, data integrity and scalability are of extreme importance. Dynamic contents place an enormous load on a server's processor, much heavier than static pages do. To deal with the heavier workload, many users add more processing power to their server. As dynamic content becomes more common, a growing percentage of Web sites will run into their current server's processing limits.

The Pentium II Xeon processor features 512KB, 1MB or 2MB full-speed level 2 (L2) cache, 100MHz bus speeds, enhanced memory architecture and increased scalability.

Intel also offers the Pentium II with Error Correcting Code (ECC) functioning on the L2 cache for single- and dual-processor servers and workstations. It incorporates Dual Independent Bus Architecture, Dynamic Execution and the P6 100MHz system bus. It is available at processor speeds of 450, 400, 350, 333, 300, 266 and 233 MHz, with 512KB L2 cache.

The chip implements Intel's Extended Server Memory Architecture and 36-bit addressing. Like post office boxes, each byte of memory and each disk sector has a unique address mode that enables memory support beyond 4GB. Using 36 bits to address memory provides head room for as much as 64GB. Windows NT 4.0 allows addressing of as much as 4GB, but Intel is providing a patch that will allow up to 8GB with 450NX and 64GB with future chip sets.

Additional information is available online at .

Dell's Enterprise Class

PowerEdge 6300 is a high performance server offering one of the fastest processors from Intel for business-critical applications; redundant, hot-pluggable components for uninterrupted operations; and scalable system architecture for future needs.

It provides up to four Pentium II Xeon 400MHz processors (with 512KB or 1MB cache), up to 4GB ECC RAM, up to 126GB maximum internal storage, RAID, three integrated SCSI controllers, two Ultra-2/LVD SCSI, and one Ultra/Narrow SCSI-3, new 7U Rack-optimized form factor (six servers/rack).

It also provides a redundant hot-swappable drive; processor cooling fans and power supplies; Dell's open management tool; Dell Remote Assistant Card version 2.0; and a toolless chassis, designed with multiple access panels and convenient internal component placement for easy and quick access. It also has multipurpose bays for versatile storage and management, and it provides a flexible drive configuration, with operating system drives that can be segmented -- from data drives on a different controller -- and mirrored.

Additional information is available by calling 800/416-3355 or online at .

Hewlett-Packard NetSever

HP is delivering the industry's first server with embedded I2O -- Intelligent I/O. The auxiliary processor (I/O processor) manages the data transfer while the CPU does something else. Even though I2O is being implemented in small systems, it embodies the principle behind mainframe channels, which can have several hundred data transfers occurring simultaneously, in its recently announced NetServer LH 3 server system.

Featuring a choice of 350MHz or 400MHz Intel Pentium II processors, the server also includes an integrated dual-channel HP NetRAID controller with I2O technology implemented directly on the motherboard. The intelligent RAID controller integrates an Intel i960 RD I/O processor to implement I2O driver software while unburdening the server's host CPU of RAID calculations and interrupt-processing.

HP estimates that the integrated Intelligent
RAID controller achieves cost-savings of more than $1,500 when compared to the purchase of a separate controller.

The NetServer LH 3 is not merely I2O-ready, it is also a compliant implementation of I2O technology for Intelligent RAID. NetServer LH 3 is equipped with standard Ultra2 SCSI (LVD) drives which deliver twice the SCSI bus speed of Ultra-Wide SCSI, and the system can be configured to support up to 12 internal "hot-swap" drives with a total storage capacity of 144GB. The i960 is a general-purpose 32-bit RISC-based microprocessor from Intel.

I2O also offers the potential to increase system stability.

Additional information is available by calling 800/637-7740 or online at .

Compaq ProLiant 5500

Compaq's ProLiant 5500 Pentium II Xeon Model combines next-generation multiprocessing and I/O capabilities to deliver industry-leading performance.

From its advanced multiprocessing capability and support for Compaq's next-generation storage technology, to the Netelligent 10/100 Mbps Ethernet controller with support for redundant fail-over NICs, this server delivers performance and value. This enterprise-class server was specifically designed to support increased computing power while requiring the least amount of space in the server or data center.

The four-processor-capable unit features a Pentium II Xeon 400MHz processor with integrated 512KB/second-level cache; 128MB EDO, ECC, 60ns buffered DIMM memory, expandable to 4GB; and a 100MHz GTL Bus. It includes PCI System Architecture, dual peer PCI busses, six PCI slots and one shared PCI/ISA slot, and has an Integrated Dual Channel Wide-Ultra SCSI-3 Controller and an auto-sensing Compaq Netelligent 10/100 TX PCI Ethernet Controller. There are three removable media bays, two open 5.25-inch half-height bays and one 24X Max IDE CD-ROM (occupied half-height bay), plus 1.44MB diskette drive.

It provides seven 1-inch or six 1.6-inch Hot-Plug Drive Bays. Maximum internal storage: 109.2GB. Maximum SCSI external storage: 1.5TB (12 ProLiant Storage Systems, each with 7 x 18.2GB hard drives). Maximum Fibre external storage: 5.2TB (36 ProLiant Storage Systems, each with 8 x 18.2GB hard drives).

Additional information is available by calling 800/OK-Compaq or online at .

Gateway ALR 9200 NTS

The Gateway ALR 9200 NTS contains an Intel 400MHz Pentium II Xeon with 512K ECC Cache (one, expandable to four); ECC memory system with 256MB of EDO DRAM expandable to 2GB; Integrated 32-bit PCI Graphics with 2MB DRAM; one 4.2GB SCA Ultra2 SCSI 7200 RPM Drive; 4MB ADAC A-466 Ultra2 1 Channel RAID Card Standard; and NT Server 4.0 (one to four CPUs).

It also includes 10 user licenses; integrated dual-channel PCI Fast/Wide Ultra 2 SCSI controller; integrated single-channel narrow SCSI; 13X min./32X max. IDE CD-ROM; 3.5-inch 1.44MB diskette drive; and 3Com PCI 10/100 TP Ethernet. Then there are the Gateway Server Management program and the Dual 400 Watt (Optional 2+1 Redundant) Hot Pluggable Power Supply Subsystem.

Additional information is available by calling 800/846-4208 or online at .

Challenger XL

Silicon Graphics' Challenge XL is a high-end server that offers one of the most expandable and powerful UNIX-based SMP servers.

Challenge XL is based on a 1.2GB/second sustained bus that minimizes the time-contention between I/O, memory and compute subsystems. The system supports from two to 36 MIPS R1000 CPUs, multiple gigabytes of memory, and up to six 320MB/second Power Channel 2400MHz I/O subsystems.

The Challenge XL's flexible hardware and software allow performance optimization, as well as scalability for future growth. The server comes with one 320MB/second Power Channel-2 subsystem containing an Ethernet controller, two 20MB/second Fast/Wide 16-bit SCSI-II controllers (configurable as single-ended or differential), a 50MB/second virtual machine environment (VME) controller, two 19.2KB RS232 serial ports, 38.4KB RS422 serial port and a parallel port. It supports up to two optional daughter boards (HIO modules).

External storage is provided via the Challenge Vault XL and can support up to 5.6 terabytes of online,
non-RAID storage and 17.4 terabytes of RAID-5 and RAID-3 storage.

Additional information is available by calling 800/800-7441 or online at .

Sun Enterprise 250

The Sun Enterprise 250 server combines power, capacity and throughput in a tower configuration. It accommodates up to two 250 or 300 MHz UltraSPARC-II processors, six hot-swap Ultra SCSI disks and fast Ethernet. Its RAS (reliability, availability, serviceability) features, such as multiple independent data paths, ECC memory and data-path protection, provide maximum uptime and productivity. It has automatic system recovery -- it detects failed hardware components and boots around them -- built-in service processor with remote system control (RSC), and it notifies users of problems via the Net or modem, which enables remote rebooting and viewing past events.

Bundled with Solaris for Intranets, it provides connectivity and monitoring for enterprise environments, runs the Solaris operating environment and is compatible with the entire Enterprise server family.

Additional information is available by calling 510/463-1133 or online at .

Tangent Enterprise NX-Q

Enterprise NX-Q is a four-way Intel Pentium II Slot 2 Xeon workstation/
network server with Intel's 450NX chipset and up to 450MHz CPU clock speeds for the Windows NT environment. It has 512KB integrated L2 cache, 256MB SDRAM expandable to 4GB, 7 PCI expansion slots (one shared PCI/ISA), and 2MB of onboard video.

The base configuration also includes three 9GB LVD hard drives with a 10,000 RPM spin rate; six-drive hot-swap disk array; integrated LVDS SCSI and 1x narrow SCSI disk sub-system controllers; 32X CD-ROM; 3.4-inch 1.44MB floppy drive; and a 17-inch monitor with 1280x1024 resolution. The system includes Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 installed.

Additional information is available by calling 415/342-9388 or online at .

Premio Titan 2200

The Premio Titan 2200 provides redundant power supply and extra cooling fans for excellent temperature control.

It is based on single or dual Intel Pentium II processors up to 366MHz, Intel's 440LX or 440BX chipset, and standard ECC memory.

It is designed to run with NT and NetWare. It provides LDSM (LAN Desk Server Manager) software V2.8; four 72-bit ECC SDRAM with 1MB video memory; 10/100 Mbps 82557 Ethernet; two independent IDE channels; four PCI slots and one ISA slot; and a motherboard-management controller.

Additional information is available by calling 800/677-6477 or online at .

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