Compaq's High-End Wintel-based Rack Servers - Working Hard to Stay #1

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Compaq's High-End Wintel-based Rack Servers - Working Hard to Stay #1
R.A. Krause - August, 1999

Product Description

Compaq's high-end Intel (four CPU) rackmount servers, the ProLiant 5500R , 6400R, and 6500R, are generally used for larger installations, such as data centers/warehouses, and by large companies wanting to minimize the floor space their computers use. Rackmount servers provide the ability to put a large number of CPUs in a small footprint, or to combine CPUs with a large number of peripherals (usually disk drive subsystems). These compete primarily in the enterprise computing market space. Compaq's (~30% market share) largest competitors are Dell, HP, and IBM (10-15% each). The rackmount market is growing, partly due to server market growth in general, and partly due to a shift from pedestal/floor-standing/"tower" servers. It is believed that rackmount servers will be about 60% of the general server market within 1-2 years (vs. 30-40% 2-3 years ago), and greater than 80% of the high-end Intel server market within the same time period.

Product Strengths

  • 5500R:
    Price/Performance: Recent TPC results show a ProLiant 5500R configured system costing 10% less while sacrificing only 5% performance, relative to a Dell 6300/6350. ($14.62/tpmC at ~22K tpmC vs. $16.30/tpmC at ~23K tpmC for Dell.)
    Storage: The 5500R holds up to ten 1.0" drives, giving it the most disk storage capability in its class.
    Flexibility: The 5500R can be converted to a freestanding unit

  • 6400R:
    Functionality: The ProLiant 6400R houses up to four Xeon CPUs in a 4U "footprint", with only one other vendor (Dell) currently providing a similarly dense offering. The 6400R has more hot-swappable hard disk drives [CPQ: 4x1.0", Dell:3x1.0"], providing greater flexibility for in-box RAID configurations. The 6400R features HotPlug PCI for systems running Windows NT 4.0. This is significant, since most vendors will not implement HotPlug on Windows until Windows NT 5.0/2000.
    Serviceability: The 6400R is easily serviceable, with tool-free access and service. In addition, the ability to swap out power supplies from the front allows the user to do that without pulling the system out of the rack - Dell's are top-access, meaning the system must be pulled out of the rack.

  • 6500R:
    Functionality: As with the 6400R, the 6500R features HotPlug PCI for systems running Windows NT 4.0.
    Reliability/Availability: Compaq's redundant fans, internal power modules, and power supplies lead to greater reliability/uptime. In addition, hot-pluggability of fans, power supplies, and PCI allows service/replacement without having to shut down the system.

  • General: The Integrated Management Display (which provides useful server status information without needing a console/monitor) adds value to the user. In addition, the Rack 9000 system allows customers to utilize 42U, and still get it through a standard door without having to tip over the rack. Rack offerings from Dell, HP, and IBM require either a non-standard door, or stop at 41U. (The "extra" U allows a customer to install six 7U-high servers in a rack vs. five in a 41U). This potentially allows the customer to roll a fully-configured rack into the computer room, saving the aggravation of on-site builds.

Product Challenges

  • 5500R: The 5500R has features similar to its main competitors, the Dell 6300 and the HP LXr8000. The LXr8000 provides more I/O slots (10 vs. 7), more RAM capacity (8 vs 4 GB), and slightly better environmentals (5 C vs. 10 C min. op. temp). However, the LXr8000 only allows two hot swap HDDs - it is up to the customer to decide if PCI slots and RAM are more important than disk storage. The 5500R comes pre-configured with two of its PCI slots filled - a NIC and a SCSI controller - so the true number of I/O slots available is five.

  • 6400R: It does not appear to have any significant product weaknesses. However, we have a concern regarding airflow, and the potential of preheated air being used to cool the two "downstream" CPUs.

  • 6500R: Although the 6500R has a good feature set, Dell's 6300 surpasses it in I/O slots and disk storage. This may be an issue for customers needing more PCI slots.

  • General: In general, Compaq's biggest product problem is that it has too many four-CPU products - this can confuse the customer. Although each product has its own special feature set, Compaq should consider reducing the number of offerings by adding functionality to either the 5500R or 6500R. Compaq's other problem is corporate, not product-related: its product quoting/ordering can be cumbersome, relative to Dell. (However, HP and IBM, on the surface, appear to be no better than Compaq.)

Vendor Recommendations

  • 5500R: The 5500R should consider making another I/O slot available, whether through adding functionality to the main logic board, or not making the SCSI controller standard. In addition, although a 24.5"deep system is a nice feature, the design engineers should consider allowing the chassis to grow larger in future implementations - it is not clear whether the chassis being 3+ inches shallower than its competitors is a significant advantage.

  • 6400R: This is a well-featured, densely packed server. The ability to put four CPUs in a 4U box (and thus 40 CPUs in a 42U rack) is a very strong selling point. In addition, the system is well packaged, and has numerous other competitive features. However, there can be some modest improvements:

    1. Try to get at least one more PCI slot. This would keep it on a par with Dell's offering, but would require some redesign.

    2. Consider increasing the power supply output. Dell has more capacity in that regard. Given Intel's and disk drives' tradition of power increases, this may be needed in the near future.

  • 6500R:

    1. As with the 6400R, this is well featured, but Compaq should try to match Dell's greater I/O and storage capacity.

    2. Play up the PCI HotPlug on Windows NT capability, Dell doesn't match it - yet

  • General:

    1. From a marketing perspective, the 6400R should be marketed as a high-CPU-density system, with all the benefits that accrue to that type of product, including clustering, disk farms, etc. The 5500R and 6500R should be positioned as cost-effective, general purpose systems with different advantages over Dell and HP. Compaq appears to be positioning these products correctly, and both products appear to be viable for the immediate future.

    2. Compaq should make a concerted effort to have a "plug and play" 42U rack: it arrives on the shipping dock, is unpacked and rolled to the computer room, gets plugged in, and starts cranking. Combining the added "U" with a pre-built configuration could be a big selling point for Compaq, and Compaq should get as much mileage as it can from it.

User Recommendations

  • Customers who need/want a low-profile cluster solution, or who want lots of CPU power in a small box, will find the 6400R a good choice. The 5500R is better suited to high-performance and general-purpose computing, and for customers who want excellent price/performance.

  • Because the 5500R has only five I/O slots available, the customer should consider using this point as a bargaining tool when considering HP as the alternate vendor. If the user absolutely needs more than five I/O slots, the 5500R becomes much less desirable - and a point customers should consider using in negotiations.

Long Term Outlook

  • Compaq continues to deliver quality server products with good feature mix. Since the rackmount market is expected to become the dominant one for high-end servers, expect to see a strong Compaq presence over the long term.

  • Although Compaq has recently suffered from internal problems, long-term negative effects on its ability to deliver quality solutions should be minimal. Although Dell is making a concerted effort to overtake Compaq, and we expect Dell to increase its market share, we also expect that Compaq will continue to be the leader in this market, and will continue to be among the technology leaders (80% likelihood).

Xeon: Intel Corporation CPU

U: Rack unit = 1.75" high

HDD: Hard disk drive

tpmC : Performance unit, transaction-based (for further info: - Transaction Processing Performance Council)

NIC: Network Interface Card

PCI: Peripheral Component Interconnect (an internal I/O bus)
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