I recently traveled to Microsoft as part of an exciting new DNA project exploring how to optimize DNA performance and how to best host DNA applications on Windows 2000. The project team's first step is to build a small DNA lab that hosts SQL Server and several application servers—all running SQL Server 7.0.

One important project outcome will be a step-by-step procedure for setting up clustering on Win2K, then setting up SQL Server 7.0 on that cluster. We're going to host SQL Server on Win2K Advanced Server running Microsoft Cluster Server (MSCS) with two nodes. After the configuration is running and documented, I'll share with SQL Server Magazine and Windows 2000 Magazine readers how we built the clustered system and the primary issues you need to consider for your computing environment.

In the meantime, here's the first important clustering lesson from the project: Make sure your hardware works with MSCS. The foundation of a successful server configuration is the hardware platform that the OS—in this case, Win2K—runs on.

When the people setting up the DNA lab listed the hardware they were going to use for the cluster server, I looked up the pieces on the Win2K Cluster Hardware Compatibility List (HCL), a special part of the HCL that shows recommended clustering hardware. Not all the hardware components appeared on the HCL list, but the setup folks assured me that the hardware would work fine because the SCSI controllers were on the list and were new models to boot. Bottom line? After several days of messing around with the hardware, the cluster still isn't running. In fact, we haven't even tried to install MSCS yet because the hardware won't work with Win2K.

The lesson? Get a total hardware solution that appears on the HCL. In our case, we're going to use a Dell system as our server, so if possible, I want MSCS-compatible Dell storage. Not only will compatible storage work with the cluster, but the vendor will support it in case we have any problems. No matter which server you're installing, remember the "golden" rule of computing: If your hardware is golden, you've already eliminated many potential problems.