Compaq debuts high-end Web server

With Sun Microsystems in mind and Oracle at its side, Compaq Computer on Tuesday launched its high-end, RISC-based server line, the AlphaServer GS, strengthening its hand in the race to be the Web-server hardware provider for the e-business economy.

The new Compaq server, which runs the vendor's Tru64 brand of Unix, OpenVMS from the Digital division of Compaq, and Linux, will support the clustering of CPUs as well as multiple operating systems running simultaneously through partitioning capabilities, said Compaq officials.

The multiple OS support and speed of the CPUs are features targeted at key markets for Compaq -- telecommunications, financial services, high-performance technical/scientific computing, and health care -- as well as specific application areas, including business intelligence/data warehousing, supply chain/ERP (enterprise resource planning), and CRM (customer relationship management).

Michael Capellas, who left Oracle to become president and CEO of Compaq eight months ago, said the more public support by Oracle is a direct result of his influence, and a harbinger of better self-promotion to come from Compaq. The vendor has not done "the world's best job of marketing" its Alpha servers, but that will be replaced with more joint marketing and more aggressive co-marketing with its business partners, he said. In particular, Compaq, Oracle, and other third-party software vendors will be sending out 750 unsolicited bids to new prospects in global markets, he added.

Oracle's support for the Compaq platform stems from the software vendor's push for consolidation that it says is necessary for any e-business to be successful. The reliable and scalable performance of Compaq hardware is "what we need in the marketplace -- it's absolutely critical to our business," said Gary Bloom, an executive vice president at Oracle.

Although Compaq officials conceded that the platform line is late, the new servers will help Compaq's competitive stance against Hewlett-Packard and IBM, which made similar server announcements last week, said industry observers. Not far behind are other competitors' systems, which will be based upon the forthcoming IA-64 architecture from Intel, added observers.

Compaq officials cited the architectural complexities of AlphaServer as the main reason for the delays. The "switching fabric" alone of the multi-processor architecture requires that 17 ASICs work together, said Bill Heil, vice president and general manager of Compaq's business critical server unit. If Compaq had been on time with these systems as promised, "it would have been fantastic", he said.

Another sign that Compaq and the other Web server providers have little time to spare is the expected announcement from Intel that its IA-64-based Xenon processor will run at 700MHz, said one industry observer.

Compaq will be providing support for as many as 32 Compaq Alpha EV67 microprocessors running at 731MHz apiece, said Compaq officials. The new line will be available in eight- (GS80), 16- (GS160) and 32-way (GS320) model configurations. The GS80 is expected to ship during the third quarter of this year while the GS160 and GS320 will become available during the second half of the year.

Pricing will range from less than $US100,000 for the GS80 to more than $1 million for the GS320, according to Compaq officials. Local pricing is not yet available.