Stratus Readies Mission-Critical Win2K Servers

Stratus Computer plans to enter the Windows 2000 (Win2K) market in July with low- to mid-range servers. The project, code-named Melody, consists of two servers, 2-way and 4-way systems that Stratus claims will set a new standard for reliability at an aggressive price. The 2-way system will cost about $12,000, and the 4-way system will sell in the $25,000 to $30,000 range. (Stratus is a well-known name in the UNIX community as a premier supplier of high-end mission-critical servers.) The Stratus Win2K systems are unique. Each system operates as one system image, but with proprietary cross-checking hardware, each internally contains two identical processor subsystems. Stratus builds these systems from off-the-shelf components and implements both hardware and software components to enhance Win2K’s reliability. Because 50 percent of Win2K’s blue screens are due to device-driver failures, Stratus has created a hardware protection boundary that isolates the driver and causes the device to fail instead of the system. To alleviate the 25 percent of blue screens due to DLL failures, Stratus wrote an add-on DLL Manager software package. Finally, and most interesting, Stratus performs a fast system reboot and dumps the system-state memory to address the remaining 25 percent of blue screens. You can analyze the dump to try to prevent future application failures. Diagnostic software and hardware that Stratus’ worldwide service centers can manage remotely are also part of Stratus’ systems. The result is that Stratus can offer a system that guarantees five 9s reliability to its customers. Five 9s reliability represents 5 minutes of downtime per year and requires very fast reboots only once or twice a year. Typically, Stratus charges 15 percent of a server’s cost annually to monitor its servers, but installations recapture this cost because they require less sophisticated IT support. When a component fails, Stratus sends a replacement part overnight to the client, who locates the failed part using status lights and replaces it. By entering the Win2K market at the stated price points, Stratus competes with mainstream server vendors, such as IBM, Compaq, HP, and Dell, but with a unique product. As Steve Kiely, president and CEO of Stratus, told me, “Our technology delivers the most fault-tolerant solution on Windows 2000, and the customer essentially gets fault tolerance for free.” Stratus will pursue a strategy of working through channel partners and might seek distribution via other OEMs. Kiely anticipates that many applications can benefit from mission-critical hardware, such as the application service provider (ASP) and ISP market, Exchange Server implementations, and traditional Microsoft BackOffice applications. The custom UNIX applications now on Stratus systems can also move to the cheaper Win2K hardware systems. In addition, Stratus is looking at specific server appliance applications such as network firewalls that can benefit from high availability. A preliminary white paper written by D.H. Brown Associates on the Melody project appears on the Stratus Web site. Windows 2000 Magazine plans to report on these systems in more detail after their release in July. Stratus will announce more details on the new systems at Windows World at Spring Comdex.

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