Stratus Shifts High-End Servers From PA-RISC to Intel

New ftServer V Series will cost about 30% less

Fault-tolerant server maker Stratus Technologies Inc. is moving its proprietary VOS operating system to a new line of lower-cost, Intel-based servers.

VOS had previously been offered only on its high-end Continuum line, which is based on Hewlett-Packard Co.'s PA-RISC processor. HP's plan to phase out its PA-RISC chip is one reason for the shift to Intel, but Stratus' move was prompted mainly by customer demand for Intel's cost and architecture advantages, company officials said.

Pricing on the Continuum line starts at about $225,000. The new Intel-based systems, dubbed the ftServer V Series, will cost about 30% less. The lower cost will be accompanied by performance gains made possible by the multithreaded design of the Intel chips, Stratus said.

Bill Morgan, executive vice president and CIO of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, plans to phase out his Continuum systems and put in V Series servers when they're made available this summer. The exchange uses Continuum systems for order processing, handling as many as 25,000 messages per second. But a new options trading system, Morgan said, may boost that demand threefold.

Morgan said the stock exchange is shifting to the V Series in order to achieve the needed performance boost, rather than adding Continuum servers and growing the architecture horizontally. "The bigger issue with that is we would have to make a lot of design and coding changes to our applications, which we would rather not do," Morgan said. The V Series uses a faster processor and is more vertically scalable, he added.

Stratus' ftServer V Series
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Stratus' ftServer V Series
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Officials at Maynard, Mass.-based Stratus said the company will continue selling the Continuum systems based on PA-RISC for as long as five more years and will support the line for at least another 10 years beyond that. "There is no artificially forced move," said Jon Malinsky, business line manager for the Continuum server.

HP's NonStop fault-tolerant systems, the former Tandem line that's based on a MIPS processor, will be shifted to Intel's 64-bit Itanium sometime in 2005. HP will make the MIPS-based servers available for four to five more years and, like Stratus, will support them for at least another decade after that. "It's incumbent on us to deliver support for that for the very long term," said Randy Meyers, director of NonStop education and technology at HP. Although HP is taking the 64-bit route, Stratus maintains that for now, user demand is for 32-bit systems.

Jon Schmidt, president of third-party developer Transaction Design Inc. in Corte Madera, Calif., and a former Stratus employee, said the VOS user base has been shrinking because of the lack of a growth path. There has been no way to move to "faster, bigger, cheaper hardware," he said. Schmidt said the V Series may attract new VOS users, especially those worried about Windows security.

Stratus officials maintain that migrating to the Intel architecture will be hassle-free, and at least one user agreed. Randall Conway, senior software engineer at Online Resources Corp., a McLean Va.-based provider of banking and payment services that has used Stratus systems since 1986, said Stratus has changed chips before. An earlier move from CISC to RISC required some recompiling, Conway said, "but it was really a minor effort."

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