NCR's multipurpose SMP server

Already a leader in the UNIX community with 17.3 percent of all UNIX system sales, NCR is now exploding into the Windows NT market. NCR recently introduced the WorldMark 4300 Server, which the company is promoting as a medium-scale commercial server that maximizes performance and flexibility. My recent tests on the system demonstrated that the WorldMark 4300 provides outstanding enterprise-level performance.

When I received the test system, I thought it was a run-of-the-mill symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) server. The Windows NT Magazine Lab's routine performance benchmarking has shown that most SMP servers perform fairly predictably. Some perform slightly better during certain computing functions, but rarely does an SMP server produce test results that are far above average. I expected this review to be nothing more than a comparison of the WorldMark 4300 with the other servers in the Lab.

My first impression of the WorldMark 4300 was wrong. NCR Performance Consultant Daniel Adams helped me unpack and power up the system. A few minutes after we opened the shipping box, we had the WorldMark 4300 running error-free. When I added the test unit to the Lab's network and ran applications to benchmark the system, the WorldMark 4300 quickly outperformed my standard SMP server. NCR may have a problem getting this system back from the Lab. It's that good.

To thoroughly evaluate the WorldMark 4300, I added an Adaptec ANA-6944A/TX Fast Ethernet Adapter, which is a four-port, 100Mbps NIC. I focused on four areas: hardware, software, documentation, and performance.

Under the Hood
The WorldMark 4300 system I tested came with four 200MHz Pentium Pro processors, 1GB of RAM, one 3.5" floppy drive, an Exabyte Eliant 820 8mm tape drive, a CD-ROM drive, an SMC EtherPower 10/100 Fast Ethernet PCI Adapter (which operates at both 10Mbps and 100Mbps), and four 4GB Seagate Barracuda 4LP SCSI hard disks. NCR offers a vast selection of options on the WorldMark 4300, including your choice of one to eight Pentium Pro processors, 32MB to 4GB of RAM, up to three 625-watt power supplies, and internal support for tape backup devices.

The test system's chassis is 27.50" tall, 18" wide, and 29.50" deep. It weighs 200 pounds fully configured, and an internal panel divides it into right and left halves. The front left side of the chassis holds one 3.5" and four 5.25" removable media bays. The left side also has space for 17 drive bays and an internal UPS. On the right side are 12 hot-pluggable 3.5" drive bays for 2GB, 4GB, and 9GB disks. Both halves of the unit contain redundant cooling fans.

Backplane boards on the left side of the chassis hold the four CPUs, six full-size PCI slots, and two SCSI channels, and the primary memory extends at a 90-degree WorldMark 4300angle from the main board. If the unit had more than four CPUs, the additional processors would be on the right side of the chassis, attached to a secondary motherboard. The second motherboard also provides another eight PCI slots and a third onboard SCSI channel. The system comes with an internal service modem for diagnostics and remote support that is part of the chassis and does not require a PCI slot.

I couldn't find any drawbacks to the unit's hardware design. The access panels provide reasonable security. The system has three intrusion alert sensors and three padlock loops—one of each for the left and right panels and the SCSI drive bay door. Removing the access panels is not difficult. When I installed the Adaptec card, I just had to remove a few screws and the left panel cleanly detached. When the access panels are open, you have plenty of room to inspect, install, and repair components without having to remove any cables, guards, connection ribbons, or air vent ducts. The WorldMark 4300 is the repair technician's dream machine, although I doubt this system often needs repair.

Setting It Up
The WorldMark 4300 comes with a large assortment of software, from NT Server 4.0 and Service Pack (SP) 3 to device drivers for the Adaptec AHA-2940 Ultra Wide PCI-to-SCSI host adapter. The package includes floppy disks containing the NT Setup program, drivers for installing the Hot Swap Backplane firmware, display drivers, and utilities for NT, NetWare, and UnixWare. You also get a bootable platform CD-ROM that contains online documentation, system configuration utilities (SCU), a diagnostic partition, and other hardware configuration utilities. The diagnostic partition not only provides a menu for running diagnostics and utilities, but also gives users access to the system configuration history file, which facilitates troubleshooting. Through the diagnostic partition, you can run tests on major components ranging from the modem to cache memory.

The WorldMark 4300 package also contains a CD-ROM titled NCR ValuePlus CD for BackOffice Version 5.0 that includes several useful software tools for the NT environment, as Screen 1 shows. One tool, Server Manager Standard, lets you monitor server hardware and environmental status, and issues alerts on system events. Another tool, SMP Utilization Manager, lets you bind processes and threads to system processors. Two other tools, Netscape FastTrack Server and Netscape Navigator Gold, help you create, manage, and publish an intranet or Web site. Remote Services lets you connect to the NCR server over a phone line or LAN so that you can remotely diagnose and troubleshoot problems.

Owner's Manuals
The WorldMark 4300's documentation is plentiful but not overwhelming. The Quick Hardware Installation guide is a superb, fold-out pamphlet that leads you step-by-step through setting up your server and checking its components. The guide also provides telephone numbers you can call for assistance.

The WorldMark 4300 Deskside User Guide is an excellent reference with well-documented, detailed explanations and diagrams of every task, from installing expansion cards to setting SCSI jumpers. The user guide explains procedures for installing and removing components and describes how to use the SCU and the diagnostic partition. I particularly liked the manual's explanations of the BIOS Setup Utility and SCSI configuration.

The WorldMark 4300 also comes with installation and user guides for each of its accessory components. This documentation covers the NCR color monitor, the Seagate disks, the PCI-to-SCSI host adapter, the SMC network card, the tape drive, NT, the ValuePlus CD-ROM, and even a headset adapter. As a technician, I appreciate NCR's inclusion of these printed manuals. The manuals' product descriptions, diagrams, and detailed technical information let you troubleshoot most system problems and repair or replace all the system's major components.

System Performance
For my performance tests, I used the Lab's standard configuration: a set of client machines on a 100Mbps Ethernet network that simulate a typical workload of multiple users (for details about the test environment, see the sidebar "The Lab's Test Environment"). I used Bluecurve's Dynameasure for File Services 1.5 as the workload engine (for information about this product, see "Dynameasure Enterprise 1.5," September 1997). Combining the Lab's test environment with the Dynameasure software gives me quantitative benchmarks that I can use to compare different systems' hardware and software performance.

I compared the WorldMark 4300 with a brand-name server that has quad 166MHz Pentium processors, 512MB of RAM, four SCSI hard disks, and an Intel EtherExpress Pro/100 Adapter and was running NT 4.0 and SP3. I chose to run Dynameasure's Copy All Bi-directional tests. These tests run, in random order, 16 different transactions that copy compressed data, uncompressed data, binary files, text files, and image files between the server and the clients.

I tested the systems for a range of 40 to 100 simulated users. The Lab's test server performed well and produced a peak throughput of 3.2MBps at about 45 users. However, the WorldMark 4300 far outperformed the standard server. The WorldMark 4300 reached its maximum of 5.4MBps of throughput at 56 users. And its network capacity graph was a straight, linear, upward projection, which indicates that if I had continued to add clients, the system could have supported them. Unfortunately, I could not continue my testing beyond 100 simulated users because of time constraints.

The WorldMark 4300 impressed me. It was easy to configure and use across the network, and its performance was outstanding. The WorldMark 4300 is not another standard SMP server. This system might be just what your business needs.

WorldMark 4300
Contact: NCR 937-445-5000 or 800-225-5627
Web: http://www.ncr.com
Price: $38,351
System Configuration: Four 200MHz Pentium Pros 1GB of ECC RAM 1MB of video memory Ultra Fast, Ultra Wide dual channel PCI array controller, SMC EtherPower 10/100 Fast Ethernet PCI Adapter, 25-pin parallel port, two 9-pin serial ports, and built-in video, mouse, and keyboard ports