Ray Richards is founder of Mindspan Consultants and a technology journalist hailing from Ottawa, Canada

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The DEC AlphaServer Lineup

As you may recall, last month I was not a very happy camper as a result of the seemingly endless frustration I was experiencing due to numerous failed attempts to get Windows '98 installed correctly. Since then I have bitten the bullet and killed two birds with one stone: I upgraded to a new 6.1GB drive and installed everything from scratch. It worked like a charm... it also took two days. We went on to discuss one of the alternatives to Microsoft's OS domination: UNIX, and also did a feature overview of  Digital's entry level workgroup server, the Alpha 800. This month we will continue that discussion with an examination of the departmental 4000 series Alpha and the colossal Alpha 8400 enterprise servers.

AlphaServer 4000/4100

The Alpha 4000 is fast becoming the departmental server of choice for mission critical application delivery and support. Backed by a comprehensive 3 year warranty, this powerhouse is the only system in it's class to support 64-bit Very Large Memory (VLM64) access; enabling entire applications or databases to be loaded into physical RAM for lightning fast processing and data distribution. The 4100 can address up to 8GB of  RAM based data (4GB on the 4000) which makes it the ideal midrange platform for complex data processing tasks; including data mining and financial modeling. The Alphaserver 4000 supports SMP utilizing 2 533MHz 21164 processors while the 4100 allows up to 4 600MHz 21164's; delivering all the horsepower required for resource hungry departmental application delivery and data processing. Disk capacity is also substantial: up to 760 GB in cabinet configurations supporting I/O bandwidth of up to 1GB/s with the I/O expansion (500MB/s without). The figures for tpmC are equally  impressive: 15,100@$72US on a fully loaded 4100. While the 4100 is superior in performance, the 4000 blows it away in expandability. Available with up to 16 64-bit PCI slots (compared to 8 on the 4100), the 4000 provides a clear upgrade path up to the full power of a 4100. This advantage clearly makes it worthy choice for budget conscious organizations who predict increasing computing demands over the server's anticipated lifecycle.

AlphaServer 8400

Truly the Rolls Royce of the server world, the Alpha 8400 provides peerless performance for high availability, massive transactional enterprise environments. With better than mainframe I/O performance (up to 1200MB/s) at a fraction of the cost (tpmC 24,537@$110US), the awe inspiring 8400 provides the sheer processing muscle required by companies like Netscape; which measure traffic on their 8400 in the 1000 hits per second range! If you are considering a data warehouse, a decision support system utilizing enormous databases, or a complex scientific modeling environment (computational fluid dynamics, molecular modeling etc.), you need only look as far as this system to fill all your requirements.  Boasting up to 14 612MHz 21164 CPU's featuring 4MB of cache per processor, this Goliath will make short work of even the most demanding computational tasks normally associated with mainframes and supercomputers. Also supporting VLM64, the 8400 may be configured with up to 28GB of physical memory and 85 terabytes of disk storage! If you thought the 4000 had a lot of I/O support with 16 PCI slots, you won't believe the number the 8400 has: 144. I don't think you'd be running out of space for a long while indeed. The system also comes complete with a 1 year on-site warranty with a 4 hour guaranteed response time which is indicative of Digital's commitment to providing the service level demanded by organizations employing leading edge technologies in mission critical computing environments. With built in support for clustering, auto reboot, thermal management, RAID, hot swap disks, SMP CPU failover, three OS's (DIGITAL UNIX, Win NT and OpenVMS) and a number of options including redundant power supply and battery backup,  the Alphaserver 8400 is definitely the server of choice for the most exigent of environments.

Who needs all this power?

While all this computer brawn might make me drool, I certainly don't need an 8400 for my house just yet; but many large organizations would be unable to function adequately in today's competitive marketplace without the processing power that these systems afford.

Lycos, one of the Internet's leading search engines utilizes several Alphaserver 8400 and 4100 systems to manage it's over 100,000,000 user requests per month. The scalable Alpha platform has enabled Lycos to stay on top of it's nearly 2,000% annual growth rate. The VLM64 capability inherent in Digital's powerhouses allows them to utilize enormous data caches, dramatically improving performance over the network.

Toys R Us Inc. operates over 1500 stores worldwide and uses a single 8400 to consolidate all corporate accounting functions. Additionally, this corporation employs a data warehouse to gather business intelligence in order to retain their competitive edge. Originally housed on an IBM SP2 mainframe, Toy's R Us's data warehouse was not performing up to standard. They swapped in an Alpha 8400 running Oracle 7 and haven't looked back since.

Bell Atlantic Mobile, the wireless communication giant of the US east coast, utilizes the power of seven 8400's configured in an OpenVMS cluster to support all transactions including: POS, credit checks, inventory management, phone number assignment and account activation. This system hosts a huge 45GB Oracle database and processes 500,000 database transactions per day supporting 2,500 concurrent users. Implementation  this Digital clustering system has improved Bell Atlantic's uptime to 99.9 percent.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) replaced its Unisys A12 mainframe with a pair of Alphas and in so doing has reduced its operating expenditures by a whopping 30%. System management was also reduced to such an extent that ASCE was able to trim an entire shift from their operations group. The society quickly realized the power of their new system, an employee remarking: "We can complete routines in 20 minutes on AlphaServers that took six hours on the mainframe".

Summing Up

Clearly, Digital's future looks bright; and in light of the new partnership with Compaq (which unfortunately has not been good for employment in our region), AlphaServers will continue to be a potent force in the marketplace.

Originally printed in Monitor Magazine's lanStuff column, August 1998, columnist Ray Richards.


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