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-- by Joseph C. Panettieri
Compaq Computer may be the leader in the server market, but that sure hasn't made it complacent. The $18 billion hardware giant, which commands 30 percent of the lucrative server arena, shows no signs of a slowdown as it prepares to expand and enhance its ProLiant server portfolio with new clustering, SMP and software features.
The ProLiant enhancements come at a critical time. Annual NT Server shipments will likely surpass 1 million units this year, up from roughly 732,000 units in 1996, according to International Data Corp. At the same time, thousands of NT administrators-maybe even you-are carefully evaluating increasingly popular server hardware from Compaq's primary rivals: Dell Computer, Digital Equipment, Hewlett-Packard and IBM.
Each of Compaq's competitors has particular strengths in the server arena. Dell specializes in personalized direct sales. Digital's Alpha servers are arguably the highest-scaling NT systems available. HP recently inked an enterprise NT partnership with Microsoft. And IBM is training 12,000 sales representatives to sell and support NT-related gear (see "IBM Predicts Suite Success")
Compaq hopes to maintain, and even extend, its server lead with new technology that improves system reliability and scalability. The company is currently testing high-speed Fibre Channel interfaces, which can carry data 133Mb per second to 1Gb per second. Ultimately, redundant Fibre Channel rings will let you cluster multiple ProLiant servers running Microsoft Wolfpack (see NT Feature, April) and eliminate single points of failure between the systems. Compaq is also quietly working with Intel and Microsoft on Virtual Interface (VI) Architecture, a next-generation clustering technology that will support Ethernet, ATM and Fibre Channel connections.
After months of speculation, Compaq has also confirmed that it's developing eight-way SMP servers. Most current NT servers top out at four processors, though Advanced Logic Research (ALR) offers a six-way NT server. Compaq's eight-way server should arrive by the time NT 5.0 ships early next year.
In the meantime, Compaq is busy expanding its workgroup and data center server offerings (see chart) with the new ProLiant 850R and ProLiant 6000, respectively.
While Compaq's server hardware designs often earn praise, the company is also keenly focused on manageability and software integration. Compaq SmartStart 3.30, a CD-ROM family that ships with ProLiant servers, now includes off-the-shelf support for Microsoft BackOffice 2.5, Raptor Systems' Eagle NT firewall and Netscape Enterprise Server.
So far, customers are lining up to buy Compaq's enhanced servers. More than 1,000 businesses, for instance, have deployed SAP AG's R/3 client-server software on ProLiant servers. According to SAP, 47 percent of R/3 for NT installations run on Compaq Copyright (c) 1997 CMP Media Inc.