June shipments of the new AlphaServer GS range (formerly known as Wildfire) must have largely soothed the fears of the Alpha faithful who have been predicting that Compaq would dump the 64-bit architecture ever since it took over Digital.
However, question marks still remain over how much real impact the new servers will have in the financial market place. Though the Wildfire will certainly help Compaq to defend its current customer base of Tru64 Unix and OpenVMS users from attack by the competition from Unix-high-end servers, it will need to do much more than that.
On paper, the GS looks well placed to do the business for Compaq, particularly in demanding financial e-commerce roles. A performance benchmark conducted by SAP on a 32-processor AlphaServer GS320 (it will also be available in 8 and 16 processor versions) showed that it delivered comparable or better performance than a Sun 64 processor E10000 Starfire servera popular machine among the most demanding financial houses. The AlphaServer GS160 and GS320 servers were scheduled to start shipping in June. Lower-end, lower-cost AlphaServer GS80s were expected to ship in the third quarter. Pricing for the GS line will range from less than $100,000 to $1.5 million.
Indeed, some existing financial clients have been decidedly upbeat about Wildfire. E*Trade CIO Josh Levine was quoted in the May 17 launch announcement stating: "From the beginning, we have leveraged enterprise solutions from Compaqparticularly their AlphaServers and OpenVMS clusters, along with ProLiant NT servers, storage and mission-critical servicesto enable the computing environment necessary to meet the high demands of our growing business." He adds: "The AlphaServer GS series provides us with features we can't do without: reliability, performance, speed and scalability."
However, simply preserving the existing user base will not be enough. "Compaq needs to leverage the GS product to grow market share in areas such as capital markets, particularly in the Unix space," says Gartner Group analyst Tom Henkel. "That means that it needs to be considerably more aggressive and better focused in winning new business for these servers. The company was not able to deliver any meaningful performance benchmarks at announcement nor did it outline any aggressive programs to attract new customers, so I question whether the Wildfire marketing approach, as currently outlined by the company, is going to deliver the market boost it really needs."
Some saw the lack of meaningful benchmark data at launch as being indicative of Compaq's comparative lack of experience in the high-end server market. IBM, by contrast, used a benchmark blitz when it announced the RS/6000 S80, a strategy that has worked well to gain attention and also to win a good slice of capital markets business away from machines such as Sun's UE 10000 server. However, though the Wildfire was more than a year late in arriving, Compaq does still have a window of opportunity since delivery of new competing products such as Sun's UltraSparc III and HP's Superdome has also slipped. Nevertheless that window is smallat best nine months, but possibly only three, as both Sun and HP will both be in a position to pre-sell their products by the early fall. The scale of the task is also considerable. At launch, Compaq proudly referred to some 240 odd orders for the WildfireSun sells that many high-end servers in a week.