Server Snapshots: NEC Express5800 and Stratus ftServer 6200

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Aug 3, 2007


NEC Corporation of America (Irving, Texas) and Stratus Technologies (Maynard, Mass.) released the first fruits of the partnership they inked in late 2005. These fault-tolerant systems carry the ft label and are known under different names by their respective vendors. They consist of the same basic hardware building blocks coupled with various software bells and whistles.

In late 2005, NEC and Stratus partnered to co-develop fault-tolerant servers. The first products have hit the market. Their underlying hardware may be the same, but software sets them apart.

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Stripped down to bare bones, what we have is a collaboration between these two outfits to produce ft Series servers. The NEC Express5800/320Fc-MR Series server features up to two quad-core Intel Xeon processors 5300 Series. The NEC Express5800/320Fc-LR Series server, on the other hand, has 1- or 2-socket dual-core Xeon 5100 Series. Similar models are available from Stratus under the label ftServer 6200 (quad core) and ftServer 4400 (dual core).

"The Express5800 Fault Tolerant servers provide the only platform for Windows Server 2003 applications designed for continuous availability," said David Reine, an analyst at The Clipper Group (Wellesley, Mass.). "Along with outstanding performance, the Express5800/320Fc delivers the availability and reliability that mission-critical applications demand in a cost-effective package that minimizes TCO."

NEC Expresses Itself

The NEC Express5800/320Fc Series servers feature NEC's GeminiEngine chipset to ensure lockstep processing in redundant components with no impact on performance.

I saw a demo of this continuous availability feature several months ago in NEC's previous version (the dual-core Fb Series). The rep removed a critical component — the complete memory module, I believe — and the system instantly failed over to another server within the same box.

It is able to do so because each system consists of two separate server modules within one box. Each module contains the exact same CPU, memory, PCI slot and hard drive configuration to permit data mirroring. They each have their own power supply to ensure continuous operation, even if one module experiences a power cut. Everything is hot swappable. Both server modules operate in lockstep mode (continual synchronization) and require only one Windows Server 2003 OS license between them.

Such a set up is ideally suited to remote sites that don't contain IT experts, yet can't afford downtime. But NEC also targets the services at enterprise customers, such as Web service providers or data centers requiring management servers running around the clock. In addition, midsize companies could perhaps use the ft models as a home for mission-critical systems.

Both editions of NEC's ft server support Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Enterprise Edition. The company plans to add support for Red Hat Linux Enterprise Edition in the near future.

Same Server?

So if the server has been developed jointly with Stratus, what's different about the NEC version? Pricing is similar, starting at around $18,000 for a stripped-down dual-core model and rising more than $50,000 for a fully loaded quad-core server.

The secret sauce is in the software. NEC adds ExpressCluster Self-Recovery Edition (SRE) software, which monitors the performance of application processes and enables more comprehensive hardware and software availability improvement. In the event of application failure, for example, SRE will restart applications as necessary or restart the server after a customer-specified number of attempts. Additionally, ExpressCluster provides for simplified disaster recovery by allowing the ft system to provide site-level availability. It uses NEC's replication services to simply and easily deploy a disaster recovery solution. Finally, NEC highlights the ESMPRO Management Suite of integrated SNMP-based tools that enable system administrators to continuously monitor, analyze and manage server information and operation throughout the network.

"The 320Fc series is being completely managed by NEC, as Stratus has announced they will cease hardware development and production," says Matthew Wolken, vice president and general manager of Fault Tolerant Servers, NEC Corporation of America. "NEC is responsible for all aspects of the supply chain, production, order receipt/confirmation, shipment, and warranty for the 320Fc."

Like NEC, Stratus is happy to talk about the partnership with NEC and the unique elements of its own versions. The Stratus ftServer 6200 is the quad-core version, while the ftServer 4400 system is dual-core.

Storage from both manufacturers is 73GB, 146GB and 300GB 15K RPM SAS drives, or 250GB and 500GB 7.2K SATA II drives. Each ft server has 3 logical drives slots (6 physical) internally. The minimum configuration is to use 1 logical (2 physical) and the maximum one is to use 3 logical drives (6 physical). The maximum hard drives capacity is 3 logical x 500GB SATA drives, which means totally logically 1.5GB storage capacity (3GB physically). Memory, CPUs and other hardware components are also the same.

Stratus, however, decided to focus on its core strength of high-availability software. Denny Lane, director product marketing and management at Stratus explained the differences with the NEC servers in terms of differing service models. The Stratus ftServers, he said, have extensive internal diagnostics that constantly monitor system operation down to the component level. As a result, the system can ride though most transient errors without interruption. If there is a problem, the server removes the offending part from service. It can initiate a call home to the customer service center over the Stratus ActiveService network. Via the server's Virtual Technician Module, Stratus can remotely service the unit, doing virtually everything a technician could do standing in front of the box.

"Over 90 percent of problems can be fixed remotely," says Lane. "If a new part is needed, it is automatically dispatched via overnight delivery. The user will see a red LED on the server, pull [out] the part and insert the new part. The system will automatically resynch itself and return to full duplex operation. All the while, the system and application are running completely unaffected."

Replicated remote access adaptors for ftServer systems work in-band (while operating) and out-of-band (while the OS is not operating). Operating on independent power and network connections, the remote access adapters allow remote communication between the server at the customer site and the Stratus ActiveService network. An ftServer equipped with these service processors need not be booted up with the OS, or even powered on, to permit access to the server for troubleshooting. Access to the service processor/server typically takes place using the customer's maintenance or shared production network.

Under the terms of the joint product development agreement signed, NEC is responsible for all hardware engineering and design, as well as product manufacturing. Stratus is responsible for everything software (e.g., OS, system software and driver hardening).

"Like all ftServer models, the 6200 system delivers uptime reliability of 99.999 percent or better, making it ideal for transaction-intensive business processes, next-generation telecommunications services or as a high-performance database engine or virtualization platform," says Lane.

The NEC Express 5800/320 Fc Server and Stratus ftServer Close Up

Name NEC Express 5800 Stratus ftServer 6200
NEC Express 5800
NEC Express 5800

Stratus ftServer 6200
Stratus ftServer 6200
Vendor NEC Stratus
Platform x86 x86
Dimensions 4U; 7.0" x 17.5" x 30" 4U; 7.0" x 17.5" x 30"
Processor Details Two quad-core Intel Xeon processors 5300 Series or up to two dual-core Xeon 5100 Series Two quad-core Intel Xeon processors 5300 Series or up to two dual-core Xeon 5100 Series
Hard Drives 2 to 6 SAS or SATA drives 2 to 6 SAS or SATA drives
Operating Systems Windows Server 2003 Windows Server 2003
Configuration Options NEC Express580/320Fc-LR server starts at $ 18,000. This includes DVD-ROM, keyboard, mouse, dual-port 1000 Base-T, FT management software, logical 1-socket CPU (Xeon 5130), PCI-X riser card, ESMPRO (system management software). No memory, no hard disks and no operating system are included in this price.
NEC Express5800/320Fc-MR server starts at $ 26,000. This includes the same features as above plus a logical 1-socket CPU (Xeon x5350), ExpressCluster SRE
Stratus ftServer 2500 sells for $19,048. This is a similar model to the NEC MR model above. It is a rackmount one-way, dual-core 2.0 GHz CPU with Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition R2, FtServer system software, rapid disk resynch, two 73 GB 15K RPM SAS drives, four 146 GB RPM SAS drives.
Stratus ftServer 6200 sells for $51,247. This includes two-way, quad-core 2.66GHz CPU, Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition R2, ftServer system software, rapid disk resynch, an extra GB of memory (2 GB total), two 73 GB 15K RPM SAS and four 146 GB RPM SAS
Availability Now shipping Now shipping
Warranty One year One year

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