NEC, Stratus Put Intel -Nehalem' Chips into Fault-Tolerant Servers

NEC and Stratus are putting Intel's "Nehalem EP" processors into some of their fault-tolerant servers, which are designed for mission-critical applications. The chips will bump up the memory and storage capacity of the NEC and Stratus servers, as well as boost performance and virtualization capabilities. The move also brings such Intel technologies as QuickPath Interconnect and Turbo Boost to the NEC and Stratus systems.

NEC and Stratus Technologies each are adding Intel's Xeon 5500 Series "Nehalem EP" processors to their lines of fault-tolerant servers.

Officials with both NEC and Stratus said the addition of the quad-core Nehalem chips to some of their respective systems will lead to a boost in performance, memory and virtualization capabilities.

Both vendors announced their plans Aug. 25.

NEC is rolling out the Intel chips in its Express5800/R320a-M4 and Express5800/R320a-E4 servers. Stratus is putting the processors into its ftServer 2600, 4500 and 6300 models.

The one- and two-socket fault-tolerant systems from both companies will see a boost in the memory capacity to up to 96GB, and the addition of the Nehalem chips will enable them to run eight 2.5-inch SAS disks for up to 8TB of physical storage.

The chips also bring Intel's QuickPath Interconnect technology to the fault-tolerant server architecture. QuickPath is a high-speed chip-to-chip interconnect technology that allows the processors to connect to another component or another chip on the motherboard.

Intel rolled out the Nehalem EP processors for two-socket systems in March, and the chip maker is preparing the upcoming release of its Nehalem EX chips for servers with four sockets.

The vendors' fault-tolerant servers are designed for extremely high availability. The systems have duplicates of the key hardware components, such as the processors and memory, that run in lockstep-they process the same information at the same time. If one component breaks down, it's isolated immediately, and the system continues functioning with the redundant component.

In addition, the failed component can be fixed or switched out without any downtime or any interruption to the server, and the repaired or replaced components can be put back into the system and immediately synchronized with the running component.

The servers are used for mission-critical applications in such areas as financial services, public safety, manufacturing and telecommunications.

Both companies work closely with Intel to enable the processors to work within a fault-tolerant environment. For example, NEC modifies the BIOS of the chip to enable it to work with NEC's GeminiEngine chip set, which synchronizes the redundant components and ensures there is no performance hit to the processor, Ken Hertzler, director of product marketing for volume servers and enterprise software at NEC, said in an interview.

The increase in memory capacity is important, both Hertzler and Denny Lane, director of product management at Stratus, said. Lane said in an interview that while fault-tolerant server customers traditionally have not demanded huge amounts of memory, that is beginning to change with the growth of server virtualization technology. Stratus has been shipping VMware's ESX virtualization technology with its fault-tolerant servers, and the demand for memory in virtualized environments is high, Lane said.

In addition, customers also are increasingly using fault-tolerant servers for such tasks as databases, and Stratus is touting the performance and price advantages customers have using its fault-tolerant systems and Microsoft's SQL Server over Oracle RAC products. Stratus officials say that the Oracle solution costs 125 percent more, with less performance.

NEC's Express5800/R320a-M4 and Express5800/R320a-E4 will be generally available in North America in the next few weeks. The systems will support Microsoft's 64-bit Windows Server 2008 and 32-bit Windows Server 2003 R2. Support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux will be available later this year.

The new Nehalem-based Stratus ftServer systems are available immediately, and also support 32- and 64-bit Windows Server 2008. Red Hat Enterprise Linux support will come later this year, and support for VMware's vSphere 4 virtualization platform will be available in the first quarter of 2010.