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

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Compaq Servers Review

Over the past couple of years I been guilty of neglecting coverage of the fundamental components of what LAN ConXions is all about... the hardware behind the scenes. With the recent, massive takeover of Digital Equipment Corporation by Compaq in mind, I thought that this would be a timely opportunity to remedy the situation with a review of some of the products that make today's networks the indispensable tools they are.


As the research and development budgets required to engineer network servers are enormous, there are only a few brand names that dominate the market. The aforementioned Compaq rules the Intel based server segment; IBM dominates the mainframe market, while Compaq's new acquisition, DEC, is king of the middle ground between them. While each have their areas of specialization, the lines separating them have become very blurred in recent years. Other contenders in this hot market segment include Hewlett Packard, Dell, AST,  and specialized application server manufacturers, Silicon Graphics among others.

Compaq ProSignia and ProLiant series servers:

Compaq's enormous success is partially due to it's products' appeal to virtually any size corporate concern: from the small 5-10 employee office, single server implementations to colossal 10,000+ user multi-server enterprise LAN/WAN deployments.  Starting with the ProSignia 200, and ending with the ProLiant 7000, Compaq's server offering definitely has something for everybody. Let's take a look at these two models in detail:

ProSignia 200

Certified year 2000 compliant, this small office server is positioned to compete directly with the IBM PC Server 315 and the HP Netserver E45. Boasting a 300MHz Pentium II processor, compared to 266MHz Pentium II and 200MHz Pentium Pro for HP and IBM respectively, the ProSignia 200 is a powerful entry level server indeed. The unit comes standard with 32MB ECC RAM (upgradable to 384MB), 5 drive bays (2 for removable media), 5 expansion slots (3 PCI, 1 ISA and 1 shared), Compaq's PCI Netelligent 10/100 base T network card, IDE or SCSI Wide-Ultra hard drive options from 1.6 to 9.1GB allowing for a maximum internal storage of 36GB (with CD-ROM removed; otherwise 27GB), and 512K secondary cache. Utilizing Compaq's Insight Manager network management software which comes bundled with the ProSignia 200 (and all other Compaq servers), Compaq offers a feature not equaled by any of the above competitors: pre-failure warranty! Insight Manager continuously monitors numerous aspects of the unit's performance and alerts the operator of any circumstances that may indicate an oncoming failure. For instance, if a problem is detected with a hard disk, Compaq will come on-site and install a new drive in advance of the unit's failure. This feature represents a significant benefit to organizations to whom down time is exceptionally costly and has provided a powerful argument in favor of Compaq when making a purchasing decision. Another warranty plus is the fact that the Compaq (like IBM) offers a standard 3 year plan vs. HP's 1 year parts only program. The ProSignia 200 also ships with ASR-2 (automatic server recovery software) which will restart and make available server resources in the event of a critical error. HP offers this feature as well but IBM does not. There are a couple of areas in which this model doesn't compare quite as well: HP features an additional expansion slot and drive bay (while IBM offers 6 slots as well, but only one drive bay) and IBM allows a maximum of 512MB of RAM while Compaq and HP permit only 384. The ProSignia represents a good overall choice for the small office and is built to Compaq's rigorous design standards, assuring long service and few problems

ProLiant 7000

Awarded Network Magazine's "Enterprise PC Server of the Year", the ProLiant 7000 services the other end of the spectrum as far as load capacity is concerned; available in configurations of between 1 and 4 200MHz Pentium Pro processors (with planned upgradability to 8, utilizing Intel's new Deschutes Slot 2 processor), and is positioned to compete head to head with HP's Netserver LX Pro. The system is available in two base configurations; the more robust of them including: 256MB RAM (expandable to 4GB), 1MB writeback cache per processor, 11 expansion slots (5 PCI hot plug, 4 standard PCI and 2 EISA), 6 removable media bays, SCSI Wide-Ultra hard drive options from 2.1 to 18.2GB allowing for a maximum internal storage of 218.4GB hot pluggable, dual channel SMART-2DH array controller and two integrated SCSI-3 40MB/s controllers which provide both blistering speed and the assurance of data integrity, two (with support for three) redundant, load sharing, hot pluggable 110/220 volt power supplies and Compaq's Netelligent Dual 10/100 base T network interface card. While these specifications are impressive, what do they represent to enterprise productivity? In order to find out, hardware vendors put their systems through rigorous benchmarking programs in an effort to compare their systems with those of their competitors. Arguably the most important server benchmarks are the number of transactions per minute (tpmC) and the associated cost of the system represented in dollars per tpmC. Under Windows NT 4.0 running MS SQL Server 6.5, the  Compaq ProLiant 7000 achieved the best ever recorded tpmC results* as follows:




$ per tpmC

Total System Cost

ProLiant 7000 6/200




$485,618 US

Dell Poweredge 6100




$444,335 US

HP NetServer LX Pro




$511,848 US

Digital Prioris ZX6200




$433,652 US

Unisys Aquanta HS/6




$485,057 US

*Based on Published TPC-C Benchmark Results as of 10/13/97

This result was achieved while simulating a server load of over 9000 concurrent users! The system also offers several other benefits including such features as an integrated management display which allows quick access to vital information without the use of a monitor, integrated remote console which allows the administrator to perform a server reboot without being in proximity to the unit, and hot pluggable PCI slots which allow the administrator to upgrade or swap out defective cards without having to power the system down. The ProLiant 7000 is obviously not geared to serve smaller enterprises (at a price tag of almost half a million US!) but for large corporate concerns represents an excellent option among high availability enterprise servers.

Next month we will continue our hardware review with servers from a variety of tier one  manufacturers. Until next time, please forward any comments or story suggestions to the email address below.

Originally published in Monitor Magazine's lanStuff column, May, 1998, by technology columnist, Ray Richards.


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