Big, Fault-Tolerant Servers Meet Linux

NEC, Stratus building support into systems.

NEC Solutions America Inc. and Stratus Technologies Inc. are looking to Linux as a way to expand the reach of their respective fault-tolerant servers.

To date, telecommunications companies and other enterprises have deployed the open-source operating system on NECs high-availability systems for such front-end duties as payment processing and Web serving. But, as businesses begin to adopt Linux for more heavy-duty back-end applications, both companies expect demand for Linux on their systems to build.

NECs low-end Express5800/320La system has supported Linux in the United States for nine months. But officials of the Sacramento, Calif., company said NEC next quarter will extend that support to its high-end 320Lb. Both systems currently run Microsoft Corp.s Windows 2000, and the 320Lb also runs .Net.

In addition, two other fault-tolerant servers that NEC plans to roll out this quarter, the two-processor 330Lx and four-processor 340Lx, also will be Linux-capable, officials said.

Meanwhile, David Laurello, who last week was named Stratus new CEO, said that adding Linux support to Stratus fault-tolerant servers—both the ftServer and high-end Continuum lines—will be one of several avenues the company will explore over the next year. The servers already support Windows.

"Over the next 12 months, were going to run Linux across our servers, specifically the fault-tolerant servers," said Laurello, who came to Stratus, of Maynard, Mass., in 1995 and has served as president and chief operating officer since March 2002.

Central to the companies fault-tolerant servers are two or more instances of every component that run in lock step within the systems. If one component fails, the other component or components continue the task with no interruption.

NECs first foray into Linux, the 320La, was bundled with a version of Linux hardened for fault-tolerant servers, along with support. Customers can upgrade the support offering at the time of purchase or within the warranty period.

Arrowhead Credit Union, in San Bernardino, Calif., uses a Stratus ft3200 server to run its ATM network. Chief Technology Officer Vaughn Book said Stratus interest in bringing Linux to its fault-tolerant servers makes sense, particularly as interest in the operating system grows.

"Theres enough people who are asking for an alternative to Microsoft and vendors like IBM and Oracle [Corp.] who are pushing it," Book said.

Even though Arrowhead is using Linux a little bit for front-end applications, Book said the company has no short-term plans to use Linux on the back end. Book added that the key question he has about Linux on fault-tolerant servers is whether the architecture can take advantage of the operating systems inherent flexibility.

For example, Windows patches can be systematically installed onto systems from traditional computer makers. But to protect Stratus and NECs fault-tolerant certification, those patches first have to be certified by the vendors. Books concern is that a similar system for Linux would reduce the platforms flexibility.

NECs answer is a program enabling customers to send the company any changes theyve made to Linux. NEC officials will review and certify the changes if they dont negatively impact the systems fault-tolerant capabilities.