Server Snapshots: Spotlight on Stratus

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Mar 26, 2007


Who says a server vendor must be all things to all people? In these days of HP, IBM, Sun and even Dell trying to offer servers for just about every possible market segment, Stratus Technologies of Maynard, Mass., stands out as a vendor making a go of it in a very specific market niche — fault-tolerant, high-availability servers.

If high availability is critical to your enterprise, a fault-tolerant server is an investment to consider. Stratus is one OEM specialized in x86-based fault-tolerant systems.

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"Stratus is a niche vendor building x86-based fault-tolerant systems," says Dan Olds, principal of Gabriel Consulting Group in Beaverton, Oregon. "The need for high availability is still there and is arguably higher than ever."

To meet this need, Stratus has been providing fault-tolerant, Intel-based servers since 2001. It offers a range of ftServer products in the $10,000 to $50,000 range. The latest in this line, the ftServer 6200 was announced Monday. The quad-core, Xeon-based system is being positioned as the top-of-the-line model. In addition, the company continues to offer legacy systems built around the VOS operating system as well as a few telecom-specific models.

"Each year, we add hundreds of ftServer customers who have never done business with Stratus before," says Denny Lane, director of product management at Stratus. "First-time Stratus customers are up 10 percent in FY2007 [which ended Feb. 26] compared to the previous year."

Legacy Roots

The Stratus of today differs markedly from the Stratus of the '90s. Previously, the company focused on its PA RISC-based Continuum line of fault-tolerant servers. These primarily supported VOS and HP-UX. Continuum formerly comprised the bulk of the Stratus business, but it now accounts for less than 25 percent of revenue. Like many legacy systems, however, a substantial number enterprises continue to rely on it.

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"Hundreds of customers run their most highly valued applications on Continuum, particularly in banking, securities trading, credit card processing and telecommunications," says Lane. "Stratus continues to sell and support the Continuum line."

More recently, Stratus introduced its ftServer V Series platform, designed to provide Continuum users with a hardware roadmap. V Series systems use Intel processors. At the turn of the year, the company brought out the latest V Series models. The V Series 250, 300 and 500 servers increased processing and disk I/O performance.

Who is buying these systems? Lane says these customers, on average, have been doing business with Stratus for 13 years and have taken delivery of about three V Series systems.

For the past six years, however, Stratus has focused on its mainline fTServer platform. They provide better than 99.999 percent uptime availability using Intel Xeon processors. A single compact enclosure contains the equivalent of two complete servers. Stratus Continuous Processing technology enables both servers to run in lockstep as one logical server. The OS and the application see only one server, not two running together, doing exactly the same thing at the same time. These machines run Windows or Linux applications out of the box without software modification or fail-over scripting, as is the case with clusters.

"In the event of a transient error or a hard component malfunction, the ftServer and application continue to run unaffected," says Lane. "Fault-tolerant servers are designed to prevent downtime and data loss from occurring; clusters, on the other hand, are designed to recover after a failure has occurred."

ftServer Models

At the low end of the scale, Stratus offers the ftServer 2400. Available in rack-mount and pedestal configurations, the 1-way server comes with a 3.2 GHz Xeon processor and has up to 4 GB of memory. It runs Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition, as well as Red Hat Linux 4 (64-bit). In the near future, a dual-core version will be released.

"The 2400 enables affordable roll outs at locations with limited IT support: remote distribution hubs, branch banks, retail stores, and other sites requiring rapid deployment and near-zero downtime," says Lane. "We have one client in the process of installing a system in each of 17 manufacturing plants for an SAP Manufacturing Integration and Intelligence (SAP xMII) rollout."

He believes that this Stratus machine, priced in the $10,000 to $16,000 range, depending on the specs, blows high-availability clusters from HP, IBM, Dell and Sun out of the water on price, performance, reliability and availability.

In the midrange, the ftServer 4300 is a 1- or 2-way symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) model that uses Xeon 3.2 GHz processors with 1MB L2 cache, up to 8 GB of memory, an 800 MHz front side bus and SATA hard drives (up to six physical disks). This is packaged in a 4U rack or pedestal. It also offers Active Upgrade software that allows system and application software updates, as well as hot-fix OS patches, to be applied online as fast as, and more easily than, a clustered system performing a rolling upgrade. It runs Windows and Red Hat Linux AS 4 Enterprise Edition.

According to Lane, the 4300 is big in public safety computer-aided dispatch (CAD), financial services ATM/POS, call/contact center, and manufacturing operations management. He says it is often chosen for space-constrained data centers, remote offices, and lights-out settings where business continuity is essential, as well as Unix migrations. It is priced from $25,000 to $30,000.

"Dell resells our 4300 servers in the public safety and government sector because of the ftServer's superior availability," says Lane. "At the high end, our ftServer 5700 is a dual-core Xeon 2-way rack server designed for high transaction throughput for business processing and multitasking applications."

This week, Stratus also announced the imminent release of the ftServer 6200. This 2-socket system will increase performance as much as three-fold compared to the 5700. It is the industry's first fault-tolerant server to use Xeon quad-core chips. It supports Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition R2 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS v.4 and ES v.4. It has up to 24GB logical memory, up to six SAS or SATA drives and Active Upgrade software for online patching and hot fixes (Windows only).

"The 6200 is arguably the most reliable server for Windows and Linux, with the best uptime performance of any industry-standard server on the market," says Lane. "Stratus is currently beta testing the server, which will be available June 2007."

Stratus sells an additional ftServer family called the T Series, which includes a NEBS certified model. T Series systems combine Intel Xeon processors, the Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating system and Stratus' fault-tolerant architecture in a server designed to handle the rigors of the telecommunications network.

Shrinking Market?

Olds believes Stratus' niche is shrinking. He says the culprit of the erosion is the inherent availability of scale-out solutions, where a customer can simply fire up another commodity server to replace a box that fails.

"Why spend a bunch more money on fault-tolerant servers when Windows and Linux have 'good enough' availability on standard gear?" asks Olds. "The big vendors have developed effective technology, such as clustering, to reduce both planned and unplanned downtime. The level of uptime provided by current technology is adequate for all but the most demanding clientele — thus shrinking the size of the market where Stratus is competitive."

Lane takes the opposite view. He says the need for availability is increasing and will continue to increase as the interests of business operations and IT meld.

"For many customers and many applications, 'good enough' availability is not good enough in a 24/7, tech-heavy, e-commerce world, as those competitors with lesser capabilities would have the market believe," says Lane. "Companies run many applications, and only a small number may be mission-critical. But, for those applications, downtime is unacceptable."

Stratus' Servers at a Glance

Server
Processor Types
Operating Systems
Target Deployment
Cost
ftServer 2400 1-way SMP Intel Xeon 3.2 GHz with 1MB IL2 cache Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition; Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 EM64T Entry-level. Replicated, multisite deployments at locations where lights-out system management is desirable, such as distribution centers, warehouses, branch offices, retail and rental chains, as well as public safety computer-aided dispatch applications in small-to-midsize municipalities. $10,000 to $16,000
ftServer 4300 1- or 2-way SMP Intel Xeon 3.2 GHz with 1MB IL2 cache Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition; Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 EM64T Expandable midrange server for departmental business processing. Workloads characterized as stable, general purpose, or sophisticated SMB operations $25,000 to $30,000
ftServer 5700 2 socket dual-core Dual-core Intel Xeon 2.8 GHz with 2MB IL2 cache per core Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition; Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 EM64T Enterprise-class server with high performance and availability for critical enterprise/business/ operations processing $25,000 to $45,000; highly configurable
V Series 100, 250, 300, 500 Dual modular redundancy hardware platform with 1-way, 2-way and 2-way dual-core logical processors VOS (virtual operating system) v.16.1 or later Intel-based platform for migrating mission-critical VOS applications from PA RISC-based Stratus Continuum servers Proposal pricing. Range is $150,000 to $1 million
T Series 40 (CO & AC) and 65 AC 2-way SMP and 2-way SMP dual-core Intel Xeon processors Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 EM64T Ranges from carrier-grade, NEBS-compliant service delivery platform to network-based gateways and convergence solutions; low- to high-call volumes, enterprise telephony, midsize network element Base system configuration, $50,000. Generally sold as component of a complete telecomm solution.

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