Compaq’s 'Photon' Comes into the Light

  • Written By: R. Krause
  • Published: June 23 2000

Compaq’s "Photon" Comes into the Light
R. Krause - June 23, 2000

HOUSTON, June 5, 2000 [Source: Compaq]

Event Summary

As part of its ongoing commitment to deliver everything enterprise customers need to build, manage and grow an Internet infrastructure, Compaq Computer Corporation announced its new ProLiant DL360 ultra-thin 2-way server, which will serve as the cornerstone of its density optimized line.

"The ultra-thin ProLiant DL360 addresses new and critical data center concerns of customers by maximizing processing power, optimizing rack space and providing the capability to easily manage thousands of servers remotely," said Mary McDowell, Vice President and General Manager of Compaq's Industry Standard Server Group. "The industry-defining technology of the ProLiant DL360 is designed to radically simplify our customers' computing experiences-whether they are a leading-edge dot-com or an established enterprise-and help them optimize profits from their Internet computing infrastructures."

The ProLiant DL360 is the first ultra-dense server optimized for high-volume deployments. Designed to meet the rigorous availability and density demands of the explosive Service Provider market, Compaq's ProLiant DL360 offers superior manageability combined with massive amounts of processing power in a limited space. This server exemplifies Compaq's commitment to innovate and optimize its server technology for the rapidly expanding needs of the ISP/ASP market.

According to Compaq, the ProLiant DL360 is the only 1U form factor that supports 2-way Pentium III processors, hot plug drives, integrated RAID, two full-length PCI slots and memory expandable up to 4 GB-twice the memory of competing 1U servers. Additionally, it includes new rack mount features such as snap-in rails and simplified cable management, and every server comes standard with Compaq Insight Manager. The ProLiant DL360 also provides an option for the Remote Insight Lights-Out Edition, which enables businesses to manage up to thousands of servers with a virtual Web-based tool from anywhere in the world.

Other options meet a range of data center environment requirements such as desktop stackable solutions, third-party racks and telco rack solutions.

Market Impact

Although Network Engines, Inc. (NEI) and IBM (which currently resells a Network Engines-based system) were the first companies to ship a 1U/2CPU system, (Ref. "IBM Announces Netfinity 4000R Super-Thin Server") in late 1999, we see the DL360 (formerly known as "Photon") as a very strong entry into this market. We believe Compaq's new system overcomes one of the key challenges of the NEI system - serviceability. Whereas NEI's philosophy is to allow the customer to do a "box upgrade" (meaning: if something fails, replace the entire chassis), Compaq allows users to replace/upgrade most of the key components, plus it has hot-swappable hard drives. In addition, the standard CD-ROM and floppy drive are nice to have, although one might argue that they're not needed in a Web server (we disagree with that contention). All in all, the DL 360 doesn't lack much.

What is currently lacking is performance figures. Compaq is generally good about doing benchmark testing before announcing a product (as was the case with the ProLiant 8X00 series), but we can't find anything for the DL 360. We would like to see SPECweb99 or similar benchmark results. In fairness to Compaq, neither NEI nor IBM provides these figures, so it seems to be a segment issue, not a vendor issue.

The other issue we see is pricing: although the base price is close to that of IBM, Compaq's memory is priced so high that anything more than a basic complement increases the price difference tremendously. We have a tough time understanding how it costs a user almost $9000 to upgrade a DL360 from 1GB to 2GB of RAM, but it costs a Netfinity user only $5500 to do the same. Even if the memory speed is faster, the price premium doesn't appear justified.

User Recommendations

From a feature and design standpoint, we like this box. It has a lot of features we consider valuable, and we believe users we appreciate them as well. The hardware plus the software available (load balancing, light-out operation and control, systems management) makes this a compelling offering, especially if the price is right (as it is for "lighter" configurations.

However, customers need to be concerned about pricing, as mentioned above. If the relatively low base price is a mere come-on, in the hope of locking customers into high-priced add-ons, then customers should either negotiate better pricing on options, or consider "voting with their feet".

Finally: as with all Web serving packages, customers should endeavor to get certified performance figures. Having two CPUs in 1U doesn't mean much if there's no performance advantage.

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