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What server do users choose to run large-scale corporate applications? Until now it's been the domain of the heavyweight Unix boxes or mainframes. These mighty workhorses powered back offices, database engines, data warehouses, enterprise resource planning, and many other applications. The front offices, file and print servers, etc were also populated with boxes running Microsoft's NT. The word Intel began to be whispered as promises of powerful chips began to be broadcast. Now Microsoft is starting to roll out 64-bit versions, first in XP for the desktop, then Advanced Server limited edition, moving to Windows.net next year, with free upgrades.
Windows.net - code-named 'Whistler' - will be available in the first half of 2002. Its beta-three version is out now (early October), claiming increased reliability and scalability, and improved Active Directory and Active Directory deployment. Testing times.
Users today are faced with choosing between IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sun, Fujitsu Siemens, Compaq, Intel and Microsoft - to list the leaders of the pack. Many different functions are common to each Unix version. Manageability, security, interoperability are bywords. IBM has opened up Aix to make it available in a 64-bit environment.
Each year sees publication of the DH Brown Unix evaluation report. For some years IBM's Aix had ruled - until last year. A condition of the evaluation is that the version tested has to be the one being shipped, in this instance v4.3.3 (v5 was in development).
IBM's technology and offerings manager for Web server sales EMEA Ian Roscow said: 'When v5L was issued a short while later, DH Brown issued a supplementary note which put Aix back on top.' Further laurels were bestowed on v5L by analysts at Andrews Group.
Aix runs on Power PC and Intel platforms with the same functionality. 'There's a choice of platforms, which is not the case with Solaris - on Sparc - and HP-UX - on PA Risc' Roscow pointed out, adding: 'The L in v5L signifies Linix affinity.'
Sun's view is Windows is based only on Intel, but Unix runs on PowerPC, Sparc, Intel, PA Risc.
All IBM platforms now support Linux, with many applications being developed. Limitations of Linux today are that it doesn't scale over four processors very well. This year IBM is investing $1bn globally in Linux, demonstrating a 'real commitment' to the open source movement. Aix has contributed the journal file system to the open community, while big hitters like DB2 and MQSeries are also available on Linux.
IBM indicated a zSeries machine can have 40,000-plus instances of Linux, which means running single instances for individual users and a paradigm shift in return on investment and cost of ownership computations. Universities, for example, could provide facilities for individual students, with a machine possessing a small footprint, particularly compared to the vast space required for battery-farms of servers to offer the same workload capacity.
Microsoft's W2K servers product manager Mark Tennent dismissed Linux, claiming it was 'a big seller of Windows, especially W2K data centre', and that the inflated hype surrounding the software had made it bigger than it actually is. Tennent questioned factors like uptime, reliability and overall costs.
'With Linux you can handle 2,733 transaction/minute at a cost of $347 per transaction,' said Tennent. 'W2K handles 1,699 transaction/minute but at a cost of $161 per transaction.'
One key strength of Aix is high availability (with HACMP - high availability clustered multi-processing which offers 99.999 per cent availability), to which can be added scalability and security.
Research by analyst Xephon, looking at S/390 installations globally, showed a good future for the mainframe - but one not as bright as NT/W2K and Unix. The latter two are outstripping the mainframe particularly in e-business development. Xephon's research director Mark Lillycrop believes 'mainframe technology has never been in better shape for handling large workloads - users today have 64-bit support, pervasive usage based pricing and a unique opportunity to run thousands of Linux images on one system'.
But the mainframe skills base is slowly being eroded and IBM is now practically unique in the mainframe hardware world since Hitachi Data Systems and Amdahl began their retreat. But do remember there are some IBM mainframes still plumbed in to the leading software company's global network. Xephon's survey showed 8 per cent of its survey base already running Linux, with 25 per cent planning to do so. Some 20 per cent are running Web applications on S/390, with a further 33 per cent planning to do so. That puts S/390 on a par with other platforms.
Fujitsu Siemens product marketing manager Andy Walker said: 'Of the various Unixes on the market, people need the maximum choice out of an operating system. We believe that within the Solaris community we've added a hardware choice to enhance the applications choices that are already available.' The company lays claim to be Sun's biggest reseller of Solaris.
HP's UK Unix server marketing manager Chris Franklin said: 'Broadly speaking, Unix gives better throughput than NT because it has better scalability. Typically, NT systems are cheaper than Unix systems - however in the low end and even in the mid range, they are starting to be price convergent. Unix systems are typically seen as being used in high availability, mission-critical environments. However, they're also used as application servers increasingly because of the general availability of applications on NT.'
HP regards its Unix offerings as possessing three key strengths: the systems are competitive in terms of price/performance; there's a tried-and-tested track record in open systems; and customers have upgrade paths that are affordable and viable.
'Linux is increasingly being used by customers for 'edge' technologies such as server appliances,' said Franklin. 'The attractiveness is obviously cost. Linux functions perfectly well for the job - it's almost coming into the market where Windows NT took off.'
Sun's UK software product marketing manager Jonathon Mills said: 'Linux offers the ability to utilise the same hardware that PCs use, but offering a server operating system at a lower cost than Windows. As such, organisations can take advantage of existing hardware they own to create Unix environments, and deploy the services they develop on, say, Sun hardware and Solaris. Linux is also available on other platforms - so is Solaris. Both Linux and Solaris are essentially available free of charge on these, or similar capability - ie less than eight processors - hardware.'
Well - Unix vs NT/W2K? The 64-bit story is a strong one - there's more power in addressability. Unix Risc-type chips process data in 64-bit wide chunks while Intel's 32-bit chips can't process data as quickly. Unix is demonstrably stronger in enterprise computing - more so than the W2K datacentre server. To date, Windows has not been able to hack it against Unix when it comes to the applications with clout, which includes the ones mentioned already plus online transaction processing and all business-to-business stuff demanding 24x7x360 availability. Now, of course, Microsoft is in the 64-bit pool, particularly from next year on, running on Intel's Itanium chips. But it's untested ground today.
As regards throughput, it has to be said that comparing NT and Unix gives a favourable view of NT. Ask: what do you get for your money? Well, cheaper price/transaction statistics. However, ask whether the platform meets the business needs? It's a false economy.
In the Unix environment it's still a strong story, looking at TPCC benchmarks on transaction processing. IBM's S80 single-image Unix system running Oracle recorded 135,000 transactions or $55/transaction, while a Sun 10000 server also running Oracle recorded 115,000 transactions which worked out at $105/transaction. Sun later did another benchmark producing 156,000 transactions, with a cost of $53/transaction - but it was run with SyBase. IBM ran with a p680 system to produce 221,000 transactions or $43/transaction. HP is believed to have pushed Super Dome, said to have recorded 194,000 transactions and $70/transaction.
Mills said: 'Beware if the only real benchmark is your application's performance. Some database benchmarks can be partitioned to run in memory which doesn't tell you much about the system, just the cpu-memory architecture.'
At the high end, there's a strong claim the price of Unix transactions has been driven down, which has now been passed to the smaller machines. The price/transaction factor pervades Unix across the board. Such factors and price comparisons fare well in cost of ownership and return on investment computations, items increasingly favoured in boardrooms today.
Tennent pointed to a SAP benchmark of a Unisys ES7000 running W2K datacentre server against Sun E10000 with Solaris. The former had 20,000 users while Sun had 19,360. But the costs worked out at $44/user and $127/user respectively. 'No contest,' said Tennent.
Generally, costs are a sensitive issue. No-one wants to talk about them. Going 'undercover' and looking at 8-way Unix servers, it seems IBM leads the pack (ie is cheapest), followed by Fujitsu Siemens, HP and Sun. But getting anyone to admit this is like standing on shifting sands. The 64-way sector looks similar except Sun leapfrogs HP's Super Dome using its Fire server. IBM creams it all the way through, undercutting everything in sight at entry level.
Walker said the 128-way Solaris/Sparc based Primepower 2000 server pumps up with 'double the scalability of the competition'. The Primepower scooped the laurels with the SAP two-tier assemble-to-order (ATO) standard application benchmark with SAP R/3 release 4.6B, performing 34,260 assembly orders per hour (using Solaris 8 running Oracle 8.1.7). 'It performed 1.8 times faster than the nearest competitor, using less than 90 per cent of its overall performance capacity.'
That's all about bringing mainframe-class performance to the Unix sector, which has also been one of Sun's key aims. While stating Sun also offers 128-way systems, Mills said: 'You can get a server for an unlimited number of user clients for under £1,000 from Sun - Netra X or Sun Blade systems. That includes hardware and operating system licences, plus other software.'
Users can be forgiven for being confused. Many/most will have a mix of systems - Unix at the core, Windows on the desktop for example. The push/pull from Microsoft - that Unix and Linux are dead and Microsoft can do it all end-to-end - is pitched against fastidious marketing muscle. There's much at stake. Now, it would seem the sky over Microsoft is going blue - 'open the Windows, the Sun's coming up, it's getting warmer'. The critics would contend 'the Windows are closed and the Sun's gone down' - but you've got to draw the Linux somewhere. Oh, dear.
Case studies - freemarkets, Starbucks, Lauffenmuhle and Churchill
1. FreeMarkets operates a business-to-business e-marketplace which conducts real-time online auctions for goods and services in 130+ supply vertical markets. Giga Information Group validated a rigorous economic justification (REJ) analysis to see if Windows 2000 datacentre server could improve systems reliability by helping FreeMarkets increase systems availability from 99.9 to 99.999 per cent. Other business benefits include increasing system capacity to handle more auctions, rate of return of 252 per cent, payback in under six months, and IT management and productivity increases of 20 per cent. Eight existing servers had been consolidated onto one datacentre cluster.
2. Since upgrading to Windows 2000 server in April 2000, coffee company Starbucks' Web site has experienced 100 per cent availability. The first site was set up with NT. Monitoring proved difficult, resulting in problems, which led to unplanned downtime. Starbucks maintains the level of availability has been a major contributor to its e-commerce strategy.
3. Demonstrating commitment to offer Linux across all servers, the first SuSE Linux application on an IBM eServer iSeries has been installed at German textile facility Lauffenmuhle, in Lauchringer. The company uses v7.1 running in a partition for stock planning and control. An initial Linux application had been run in a test environment on an AS/400 720, and once active and stable it was migrated to iSeries 820, where the Lpar technology now runs the application in parallel with the test partition, OS/400 and traditional Web applications (eg a firewall).
4. Churchill Insurance is utilising a combination of high-end Unix systems, front-end application servers and back-end database systems to directly service its customers through its 2,000-strong workforce. The company utilises Fujitsu Siemens PrimePower servers and Oracle 8i database to glean the best from the open Sparc/Solaris operating system. Simultaneously Churchill continues to utilise its internally-developed enterprise resource planning applications, running on an Oracle database - the first ERP installation on PrimePower in the UK.