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

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Windows Rant, Alpha Rave

Sorry to start off this month's column with a rant but well, I'm quite exasperated! I have spent the last two days trying every conceivable solution in order to get my long awaited copy of Windows '98 running properly on my main system. My Pentium was running fine (o.k., ... as well as can be expected) under Windows '95 but for some reason '98 doesn't recognize my MPU-401 MIDI interface or see my laser printer.

I have removed and reinstalled the drivers innumerable times, taken out all the other expansion cards, reinstalled Windows three times (twice my copy and once a friends), screwed with the .ini files and the registry ‘till blue in the face, checked my LPT port and swapped in another MPU-401 (both work fine in DOS), removed all TSR's and foreign device drivers ... all to no avail.

Now I am faced with reformatting my drive and starting from scratch because, like a MORON, I installed the FAT32 disk system (do not do this before you check everything!) and therefore cannot de-install Win '98. All this to perform what is at best a very modest OS "upgrade". This got me thinking about Microsoft's dominance in the marketplace and how the apparent lack of competition has resulted in the release of one buggy OS after another... o.k., so I was feeling very sorry for myself!

I generally feel that Microsoft produces decent software; but this situation made me realize that I hadn't given much time to the alternatives in previous articles. As my column for Monitor was now overdue; resulting from my tenacity in resolving this situation (sorry Glen!), I decided to vent... I mean take a breather... and continue May's article on servers with a twist.

Last month we compared some servers from Compaq, IBM, and HP ranging from entry level to top of the line. All of these systems were running Windows NT 4.0 and MS SQL Server 6.5 for benchmarking purposes; under which the Compaq 7000 scored highest with a tpmC of 11,055.70 at $43.92US/tpmC under a simulated load of over 9000 concurrent users. While this is a pretty impressive score, it pales in comparison to what may be achieved with a UNIX based system.

That's right UNIX! Had you thought that it was going to be crushed under Microsoft's massive marketing boot... dying the same horrible death OS/2, DR DOS and anything else non MS has seemed to? (sob, sniff!) Nothing could be further from the truth. With the enormous growth and interest in everything Internet, UNIX has been enjoying a renaissance lately as the OS of choice for truly stable, rock solid, high  performance networking solutions.

So why would an organization want to run this OS? Example: Digital Equipment Corporation, utilizing a UNIX clustering  system comprised of 8 Alphaserver 8400 5/625's recently posted results of  102,541.85 tpmC at $139.50/tpmC running Oracle 8 enterprise. This is nearly 10 times as many transactions as the stand alone Compaq 7000 for only just over 3 times the $/tpmC! All this was accomplished under a simulated load of 104,000 users, a number exceeding the combined number of employees from Digital, Compaq and Oracle!

Obviously, if you do the math, you probably won't be running out to get one of these clustering systems for your home...102541.85 x $139.50US = $14,304,588.07US... but the score is meant to illustrate the sheer power available to the UNIX community at large. Anybody who has run this OS for any amount of time will attest to it's stability if not to it's ease of use. UNIX server uptimes are more often measured in months rather than in days. Also of great interest and importance is the enormous amount of control the user has over all aspects of the OS. While Microsoft seems to feel "you don't need to fiddle with that", UNIX vendors permit extremely low level access to system resources.

Best of all (as you may have read in our own David F. Skoll's "Linux Stuff" column), some very robust versions of UNIX such as Linux and Free BSD are available absolutely FREE!  So let's continue our look at servers with a focus on the DEC Alphaserver powerhouses that are faithfully serving a great many  Government and Fortune 1000 MIS departments day in and day out; running UNIX as well as that –ahem– other OS.

The first item that bears mention is that the Alphaservers are not Intel based and utilize a proprietary 64 bit CPU: the 21164 processor, running at speeds between 333 and 612 MHz. Why is that important? Well, if you are just running a word processor on it, it isn't; but if you are planning serving a large user community, especially administering enterprise sized databases, it is crucial. The speed difference between 64 and 32 bit processing of large data stores is enormous. A rigorous data processing task that formerly took up to 36 hours to complete on a 32 bit workstation may be finished in as little as 5 hours. The complex query of a large database might take only 5 seconds on a 64 bit system while taking over 15 minutes on a 32 bit unit. Obviously the potential ROI would be quickly realized in the above scenarios. Digital (along with MIPS) has been in the 64 bit game since 1992; while rivals IBM, HP/Intel (Merced) and SUN Microsystems are comparatively just getting their feet wet. Coupled with a true 64 bit OS like Digital UNIX and a 64 bit Database system such as Oracle 8, an Alphaserver is truly a force to reckoned with.

Alphaserver 800

Modestly priced, the entry level Alpha 800 comes standard with a single 21164, 333MHz processor, 2MB secondary cache and supports up to 2GB of RAM. The disk storage options for this unit are quite substantial: internally the 800 may accommodate 72GB of drive space while supporting a total of 5.3 Terabytes combined external and internal capacity.There are a total of 6 expansion slots: 3 PCI, 2 EISA and 1 64 bit PCI/EISA combo slot. The system boasts a blistering 266 MB/s max I/O bandwidth, making short work of almost any data shuffling task. With integrated support for clustering, hot swappable disks, remote management, 3 operating systems (UNIX, WinNT and Open VMS) and bundled with a comprehensive 3 year warranty, this system represents one of the industry's best values in a workgroup server.

Next month we will continue our look at Digital products with an examination of the 4000/4100 series departmental servers and the ultra-powerful 8400 Alpha... hopefully by that time I'll be a happier camper!

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

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