Servers Product of the Year 2000

Friday Feb 2nd 2001 by Neil Plotnick
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Compaq DL 380 Captures the Crown

High reliability, capacity, easy installation, and lower cost of ownership (TCO) steered voters to select the ProLiant Model DL 380 in Datamation's Product of the Year 2000 Server category. The ProLiant DL 380, from Compaq Computer Corp. of Houston, captured nearly 30 percent of the votes cast, or 71 votes.

Placing a close second, with 27 percent, or 66 votes, was the Netra T1 server from Sun Microsystems Inc., Palo Alto, Calif. The Netra T1 ships with the Ultra-SPARC IIi processor and supports hot-swap media. The third-place choice at 16 percent of the total, or 39 votes, was the Intel-based eServer xSeries 330 from IBM Corp.

Compaq's DL 380 embraces many features typical of high-end, Intel-based systems. Its fault tolerant components include hot-swap drives, an integrated RAID controller, redundant hot-swap power supplies, and error checking/correcting (ECC) memory. The system provides dual Pentium III processors of varying speeds, capacity for up to 4 GB of RAM, and internal support for 145 GB of storage in a rack-mountable 3U form-factor chassis.

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Users says those features gave the DL 380 the nod this year. For instance, American Student Assistant is the sixth largest guarantor of student loans in the nation, with over $700 million in loans last year. The, Boston-based firm requires high reliability from its servers. Faced with waning Windows NT support for their older Compaq DEC Alpha systems, Michael Russo, data center manager at ASA, decided to take advantage of a Compaq buyback program to purchase his first Compaq servers, the model DL 580.

"We were so impressed with the way they built the hardware, hot swap power, hot swap CPU, hot swap disk drives,'' Russo recalls, "we decided to look at the DL 380 for its class of CPU and all of the redundancy we look for."

ASA runs three-tier client-server architecture to manage all of its accounts. The production department runs an in-house developed NT application on DL 380s in the middle tier, which demands 24x7x365 support from its hardware. All of the fault tolerant features were certainly critical, but performance was also an important factor. "The DL 380s are a real screamer," says Russo.

Ease-of-configuration also earned praise from Russo. Rather than work with a systems integrator, Russo's staff of eight system administrators and 10 computer operators configures and installs all of their systems. "These things are unbelievably easy to work on," says Russo. He says configuration and installation are easy to set up because the vendor color codes cables and connectors, and the logical component layout.

Notably absent from their experience have been any struggles when adding processors, memory or disk drives, he says. "Everything is color-coded and you don't have to deal with weird angles and knuckle banging operations to get things installed," Russo says.

"Manager utilities that guide the install of the OS make everything go smoothly," says Russo. Support has also been good, he adds.

Brian Richardson, program director of Server Infrastructure Strategies at META Group Inc., of Stamford, Conn., amplifies this point. "Using remote management capabilities like Compaq's Smart Start and Insight Manager help users leverage their support staff resources," Richardson says. Reducing the ratio of system administrators to servers lowers TCO, he adds.

Common to the second and third place winners is their thin 1U chassis. Many Web server farms need high-performance systems that take up minimal floor space. Servers built in the 1U form-factor chassis fit the bill nicely, and are a common trait of this year's second and third place winners, the Sun Netra T1 and IBM eServer X330, Sue Thielen, a UNIX systems administrator at IT service and support provider ePeople Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., has installed several Sun Netra T1 servers in her computer room. "The 1U [form factor] was the entire reason we chose this puppy," she says. "We are running out of rack space at the data center, and are trying to do a physical downsize of stuff there."

Others concur. John Edwards of Results Computing, a Burke, Va., consulting firm, says, "The one feature I like most about the Netra T1 is that it comes with dual network interface cards (NICs). This makes the T1 ideal for routing and firewall applications." Reinforcing the preference for small server size, Edwards adds that "The form factor, 1U, was a key reason for purchasing the T1. These machines are located in a co-location facility where space is at a premium."

Some Netra T1 features, however, are not to everyone's liking, however. Users have posted comments on the Internet chat service Usenet that they frequently have problems with the Netra T1's non-standard serial port cabling design. "It made for a very difficult install," acknowledges Thielen.

Continued demand will keep server sales strong, even if other segments of the IT market falter. According to Lloyd Cohen, director worldwide market analysis at International Data Corp. (IDC) in Framingham, Mass., vendors sold 1.95 million servers in the U.S. last year, worth $29.9 billion. He says IDC projects that by year 2003, server vendors will sell over 2.3 million servers, worth $30.2 billion.

Neil Plotnick is the author of The IT Professional's Guide To Managing.

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