NEC Feature Eases Server Maintenance

Active Upgrade enables users to patch systems without having to reboot.

The fault-tolerant servers from NEC Solutions America—with their twin components that work in lockstep—were aimed at protecting businesses against unexpected system failures, according to officials.

Now the Rancho Cordova, Calif., company is offering an option to its newest systems, the Express5800/320Ma, that will enable users to more easily manage their planned system upgrades.

NEC on April 13 is launching its Active Upgrade offering for the new fault-tolerant systems. Officials first unveiled the feature in February when they introduced the new server family. Now its ready to go, said Mike Mitsch, general manager of alliances for NEC.

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"Now we are giving people who have been buying fault-tolerant products from NEC over the past few years a new dynamic," Mitsch said. "Now they can not only manage their unplanned downtime, but also now their planned downtime."

Active Upgrade enables users to upgrade and patch their software without having to reboot their systems. Because the fault-tolerant systems offer two of every component running in lockstep on two modules, Active Upgrade lets users virtually split the modules and take one set offline to perform the software maintenance while the other module continues running.

Once the maintenance is complete, the module is rebooted, the upgrades are copied to the other module and the two modules are synchronized and brought back into lockstep.

In addition, a rollback feature protects users in case the system or software upgrade hurts applications performance.

Overall, its a procedure that can take about 15 minutes, as opposed to the normal 2 hours or more needed to take down a traditional server and upgrade Windows, Mitsch said.

The Express5800/320Ma systems—which come with Intel Xeon chips running at 3.2GHz and 3.6GHz, and with dual-core Xeons—are available now, starting at $30,000. NEC also is offering a 90-day promotional discount of $1,000 to $2,000 for the Active Upgrade service. In addition, NEC is creating a services business around Active Upgrade to help customers with customized applications use the feature, Mitsch said.

Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., is throwing its support behind the feature. Don Richardson, director of manufacturing solutions at Microsoft, said the need for businesses to keep up with patches and other software upgrades has increased as hackers have become more sophisticated, particularly over the last four years or so.

Microsoft has tried to make it easier by coming out with patches on a planned monthly basis, rather than randomly, but some businesses have been slow to make the upgrades, leaving them vulnerable to attacks. "You do need to take the time to patch the systems, and you do need to take the time to be diligent," Richardson said.

The top request of Microsoft customers is to not have to reboot the systems, which can be a time-consuming process, he said. NECs Active Update takes the need to reboot out of the equation, which Richardson said will help increase the security of those customers using the Express5800/320Ma.

"You can finally make the patches … without having to bring the system down," he said.

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