Data Centers

PC Expo: What's new in the server arena

Hal Glatzer turns his spotlight on the new products in the server market.

Except for laptops, you don't see too many ordinary PCs at the PC Expo (and Apple doesn't take a booth there any more). What you do see, among the flat-panel monitors and the storage devices and the SIMMs and the cables and the wireless modems, are servers. PC Expo has matured into an important venue for servers.

Hewlett-Packard showed off its latest Intel-based server, model NetServer LXr 8500. Eileen O'Brien, worldwide marketing manager for the company's network server division, declared, "It brings the performance usually associated with UNIX systems to the world of Windows NT."

Well, that remains to be seen. But the hardware has state-of-the-art specs: up to eight Pentium III Xeon 550-MHz processors, up to 32 GB of SDRAM, four 64-bit PCI controllers, and a bundle of configuration and application management tools—all in a $23,600-$26,300 price range. Backup is typically done with 4mm DAT tape, although that's optional.

The LXr 8500 joins a six-member HP server family that includes the slightly less-powerful model LXr 8000, for which the company also offers what O'Brien called an "in-box" upgrade.

IBM also showed a new server for the first time, although it won't be available for a few months. Model Netfinity 8500R is "optimized for external storage area networks," said product manager Roger Hellman, "as well as for DASD." ("DASD" is IBM-speak for primary or "online" file storage.)

The 8500R comes with one Xeon CPU, although it can hold two; 16 GB of RAM; and a suite of support software. The price, not yet fixed, will be in what Hellman characterized as "starting in the low 20s."

IBM was also promoting its model Netfinity 5000, which can have one or two Pentium III CPUs, and 2 GB of RAM, but only a $2,000-3,000 price tag that, as Hellman said, "puts it right in our 'value' line."

Japanese companies are so well known for making peripherals that it may be easy to forget that they are world-class manufacturers of whole computer systems. HitachiLtd. , which has considerable mainframe experience, had three servers from its new VisionBase family on display at PC Expo.

At the low end was the PC-tower-size model 8240, which has one Pentium III processor, 128 MB of SDRAM (optionally scalable to 1 GB), and lists for about $4,000. In the mid-range was model 8450, with Xeon CPUs and more RAM, for between $12,000 and $15,000. At the top was model 8880R, with multiple Xeons, 1 GB of SDRAM (scalable to 16 GB), and a price tag that starts at $50,000 and can reach $200,000 with all the available bells and whistles.

But what customer support services director Keith Bennett wanted to show off even more than the servers was Hitachi's VisionBase ESCON adapter: a PCI adapter on a plug-in card that can link a server to IBM's Enterprise System Connection Architecture. "It can replace a four-processor server as the front end to a mainframe, so it can offload processor chores from that mainframe," Bennett explained, "and provide direct channel-attachment not just to TCP/IP, but to the most popular SNA gateway software available." Those, he said, were IBM's Communications Server for Windows NT, Microsoft's SNA Server, and Novell's NetWare for SAA.

Toshiba Corp. was showing its Magnia line of modest-priced servers. Model 3010, targeted at workgroups, comes with a choice of Pentium processors and 128 MB of SDRAM (that can be upgraded to 1 GB), for a $2,279 list price. Next up the chain, model 5010 is aimed at departmental installations. It also has 128 MB of RAM, but faster processors and more hot-swap hard-drive capacity, for a starting price of $4,286.

The top-of-the-line model 7010 is "enterprise-class," according to director of server products Marc Tanguay. It starts with 256 MB of SDRAM and can be ordered with more of everything than the others, yet pricing begins at only $7,660. Any of the Toshiba servers, Tanguay noted, can be configured for rack mounting for an extra $500.

The Linux offerings
It must be noted that there was a "pavilion" for Linux vendors large and small that was always crowded with attendees. If any OS can still challenge the Microsoft hegemony, it will probably be Linux, the open-source version of UNIX.

Red Hat and Caldera, of course, showed their versions of the OS; and Corel set up large-scale demonstrations of its Linux-enabled Office software suite. But among the most intriguing exhibitors in the pavilion was one whose products enable other companies to join the Linux movement.

That would be Cygnus Solutions , a 10-year-old company whose reputation to date rests on its high- performance compiler called GNUPro, and its back-shop work helping hardware manufacturers to support the Linux OS. At PC Expo, however, Cygnus launched what product manager Kevin Philips dubbed "a complete, integrated development environment” called Cygnus Code Fusion.

Code Fusion IDE, he said, is optimized for Intel Pentium and Xeon CPU architectures. "It integrates a GUI with Java, C, and C++ [programming languages]. It's built on top of GNUPro tools, which ensures that applications, even those with the latest innovative features, will certifiably work under Linux."

Code Fusion, which is scheduled to ship to retailers in July, will cost $299 and will come with 30 days' worth of installation support from Cygnus' engineering team. (GNUPro, incidentally, costs $79.)

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox