Reacting to demands from corporate customers for scalable, flexible computer systems that are able to satisfy increased server requirements, Sun and Silicon Graphics have launched a range of new server-oriented technologies.
In Sun's case, the manufacturer is building high-availability clusters with its Ultra Enterprise servers. According to Sun, the interconnect can move data at speeds of 2.6Gb per second between systems separated by as much as 20 metres. Industry watchers say the implementation is likely to remain limited to two nodes until mid-1997, when Sun is expected to be able to offer fully scalable clusters.
"What they don't have, and what they won't have until the second half of 1997, is a clusterwide file system," said Brad Day, vice-president of US-based Giga Information Group. "The next step is scalable clusters, and the final step is disaster-tolerant clusters."
"There are two key issues: availability and scalability," Sun's Sydney-based marketing director Don Lowe told Australian Reseller News. "The high-availability clusters are not fault tolerant, but it's as close as you can get using commodity components. You have two machines and if one fails, you get a complete fail-over to the other machine," he said. "What's more important is that the tech- nology is not application-specific, so the high availability is not tied to technology from one of the database companies." According to Lowe, the product roll-out is all part of a building-block process for Sun. "We're building this functionality off the back of our current Ultra line of servers, which is very well regarded and has done very well in the marketplace. That gives us a good platform from which to build," he said.
Where does this place Sun in relation to its competitors? "By adding the cluster technology on the Ultra line's solid foundation, we're in the middle of the marketplace. There are some players that do a little better than us, and some who do worse," he said. "We're very comfortable with our overall price performance."
Lowe says the new technology will have appeal for a broad range of enterprises. "It isn't only big enterprises that will be using these servers. One of the good things about Sun's product range is its scalability with binary compatibility from throughout the line," he said. "We have a relatively low entry-level price point [for the new servers], so a smaller enterprise that is maybe running payroll and accounting on its system - and who needs high availability and scalability - could come in at the $150,000 level to build a configuration - as opposed to the million dollar-plus level."
Just as Sun says its new servers have a multitude of potential applications, the manufacturer will employ a variety of methods to sell them. "We have a number of high-end partners - Amdahl, Fujitsu, Unisys, people like that - who have our products as part of what they sell," Lowe said. "We also have our direct sales force and we have relationships with a range of commercial systems integrators."
Silicon Graphics (SG) has also leapt into the clustering game with the introduction of its new Origin line of servers that it says dramatically extends the performance of SMP systems. The Origin line is based on S2MP, SG's new scalable, high-performance architecture, and ranges from a single-tower system priced at $A21,985 (excluding tax) to a multi-rack, 128-processor system.
According to SG sources the Origin line distinguishes itself from competing technology in that "traditional multiprocessing systems are built around a design driven by specific price or performance objectives". However, "this approach results in multiple-point products and box-swap upgrades to go from smaller to larger systems".
David Webster, marketing director for Silicon Graphics, told Australian Reseller News the manufac-turer's new server products offer customers a number of advantages, not the least of which is price.
"I think the launch of these new products puts us in a position of having a major econo-mic advantage over our competitors in the purchase cycle of server products. If you were a customer and you wanted to build or buy a computer system that had a lot of head room and could scale, and you went to Sun, or HP or DEC and said 'I want something that can go up to 36 CPUs' - given that that's their top end - 'and I want to be able to grow into that system over time' you're looking at a major, major investment," Webster said.
"With Sun, for example, you'd have to spend about $300,000 straight out of the chute. You'd have to go and invest in the chassis and back plane that Sun provides. Because we are switch- and cross-bar switch technology-based, we can start with one CPU and grow up to 128.
"They can start with one, but they've got to put a chassis in that can go to 36 and they wouldn't be able to go to 128. In contrast, our solution would cost about $60,000. So there's a real economic difference in the purchase mechanics of these servers versus what's out there in the industry," Webster said.
Like Sun, Silicon Graphics is using a number of means to sell its server products. "We'll sell them through a combination of working with our reseller channel, working with our OEM partner Tandem and with our direct sales force," Webster said. "Our reseller channel accounts for about 50 per cent of our sales. Most of the time we work with solutions providers.
"Even in instances where we're selling direct. There's often times a partner involved at some stage of the process."