Virtual Server Strategy Goes Native for NEC

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Jun 30, 2010


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NEC announced several enhancements Tuesday around its Fault Tolerant (FT) line of servers. Chief among them is that the OEM is making server virtualization an option for mission-critical applications.

NEC partners with VMware to bring virtualization to its FT line. Is this the start of mission-critical apps running on virtual servers becoming commonplace?

Express5800 R320a FT servers are being positioned for use in data centers running virtual server and cloud computing deployments as well as traditional physical servers. NEC modified this latest generation of its FT Express5800 line to enable customers to run vSphere natively. This means no external storage, networking or additional server systems are needed. It also means the FT systems are able to deliver continuous processing to VMware guest environments resulting in a greater level of availability than found elsewhere. NEC (NYSE:NIPNY) believes this makes the offering ideal for both mission-critical data centers and remote offices.

In and of itself, is this really that interesting? NEC is far from the first OEM to partner with VMware (NASDQ: VMW). Nor is it the biggest, but NEC's overall approach is fairly unique.

Virtualization is considered mainstream in many areas. Mission-critical apps, however, are by and large one area where not only is virtualization not often considered, but vendors are also not often positioned. By integrating the application into the hardware, NEC is able to leverage the benefits of the hardware, while making the usage seamless to the end user.

For enterprises hooked on NEC's FT servers, or similar hardware from other vendors, this makes for an easier sell. The cost savings NEC is claiming only sweetens the offering.

Typically, hardware redundancy is required to ensure continuous processing and high availability for mission-critical apps to get through both planned and unplanned outages. Virtualization only increases that need through the increased risk of downtime. Hence, part of the reason for the historical oil-and-water relationship between the two.

Mike Mitsch, general manager, IT platform group alliances and strategy, at NEC explained to ServerWatch how the new FT servers avoid this pitfall. Most enterprises chose one of three options to achieve high-availability for virtual servers: the "container" in question can be migrated to new server (this is fine for planned downtime, useless for unplanned); a snapshot of the container is sent to the SAN (this is just a record -- there is no processing or restoration of data); or fault-tolerant software delivers redundancy on commodity hardware (this often runs into scalability limitations).

All of those options require additional and dedicated hardware. The FT line, in contrast, was designed with high availability in mind. "Everything [the entire CPU, memory and IOH Intel subsystems] is done in lockstep," Mitsch said. This results in a fully redundant state with mirrored drives and so on. Full redundancy for a physical or virtual server; no additional hardware needed

It also makes for simpler management. Mitsch said "there is no external fabric or infrastructure. The FT is within the box, and it can be managed remotely."

For the most part, NEC is viewed as a niche vendor. Going native with vSphere aims to go a long way toward solving a frequently encountered virtual pain point. Should it catch on, mission-critical apps running on a virtual server may be as commonplace as back-office apps. And NEC's boxes may well be powering them.

NEC released two base models, the NEC Express5800 R320a-E4 and R320a-M4, priced starting at $18,799. For those on the fence, through September, the OEM will make available the Express5800/R320a FT server for customers in the United States and Canada to trial.

Amy Newman is the senior managing editor of ServerWatch and Enterprise IT Planet. She has been covering virtualization since 2001, and is the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, published by Pearson in October 2009.

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