Not all that long ago, high-availability servers were the exclusive domain of enterprises and large businesses. Although small-to-midsized businesses (SMBs) could certainly benefit from high availability, either the price or the complexity of these solutions put them out of reach of all but large companies. Now, Stratus Technologies' Stratus ftServer W Series 2300 brings five 9s of availability within reach of SMBs, with server prices starting at just under $10,000.

The Stratus ft2300 system that I tested was a 4U rack-mounted server unit with additional RAM and hard disks, USB support, a modem, and a 1U pullout 17" LED display with built-in keyboard and mouse. With a unique architecture specially designed for high availability, the ft2300 provides redundancy for almost all system components, including the CPU, RAM, I/O, LAN, power supplies, and fans. Unlike the high-end fault-tolerant Stratus systems, which have two motherboards, the ft2300 uses one motherboard that has dual connections to support the redundant components.

The system is split into two enclosures that share the motherboard, with each enclosure having a 3.06GHz Xeon processor with 4GB of RAM and a drive array of three Serial ATA (SATA) drives with a total of 240GB of storage. Unlike with Microsoft Cluster service, there is no need for multiple systems and no additional configuration or management complexity. Stratus's lockstep technology keeps the dual processors synchronized, so even if one processor fails, the other continues to run with no loss of data or functionality. You can also mirror the disk storage between the two enclosures and set up the NICs for redundant operations.

The Stratus ft2300 comes with Windows Server 2003 preloaded, along with various other software such as RealVNC's Virtual Network Computing (VNC) software and Abode Reader. At the initial startup, you're prompted to accept the End User License Agreements (EULAs), complete the installation of the software packages, and activate the system.

After the system is up and running, you manage it almost as you do a standalone Windows server. There are differences, however. The Stratus system loads a set of 12 specialized services, including the Stratus ftServer Alarm, the Stratus ftServer eService, and the Stratus ftServer Inventory services. And you use the FTSERVER management console shown in Figure 1 to manage the system's fault-tolerant components.

For disk protection, you can set up the system to use volume mirroring or Stratus's Rapid Disk Resynchronization (RDR) mirroring technology. RDR mirroring protects against the simultaneous loss of all three hard disks by duplicating their data to the matching set of drives in the other enclosure. RDR provides better performance during resync operations than volume mirroring does because only the blocks that were updated while the disk was removed from the mirror are recovered. You can also use Ethernet teaming to set up the dual Gigabit Ethernet connection for redundancy.

After setting up my system, I ran some basic performance and availability tests. Usability-wise, the system was no different from a typical Windows 2003 machine. SiSoftware's Sandra 2005 benchmarks showed that Stratus's unique architecture had little effect on performance, as the benchmark results were similar to the results for other single-processor servers I've tested. To test the system's availability, I ran a variety of tests, including cutting the power to one power supply, then the other; pulling out various hard drives; and disconnecting the LAN cables. The Stratus ft2300 met these challenges without a hiccup and with no downtime and no loss of client connections.

Stratus provides several types of service contracts. I found the support organization to be especially good. Within a couple of minutes of manually rebooting the server as part of my testing, I received a call from Stratus offering assistance, which surprised and impressed me. The ft2300 also has a Virtual Technician Module (VTM) that enables out-of-band management, letting Stratus remotely diagnose the machine. (I didn't test this feature.)

If you have an SMB that needs maximum availability but don't want the complexity of Cluster service, look into the Stratus ft2300. It's a compelling solution.



Stratus ftServer W Series 2300
Contact: Stratus Technologies * 978-461-7000 or 800-787-2887
Web: http://www.stratus.com
Price: Starts at $9999; $14,152 as tested
Summary
Pros: Provides fault tolerance for almost all system components; very fast support response time
Cons: A learning curve is associated with the unique system startup and architecture
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Recommendation: Recommended for SMBs that need maximum availability but aren't equipped to handle the complexity of a cluster