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NEC treads on HP, IBM et al.'s x86 server turf

Japanese server manufacturer NEC has brought its server portfolio to the North American market and introduced two new blade servers geared for energy efficiency and virtualization.

Tokyo-based NEC Corp. has opened its Japanese server hardware portfolio to the North American market and has included new servers designed for virtualization.

With NEC's entry into the North American x86 server market, IT managers now have another major vendor to choose from other than the usual suspects: Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM, Dell Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc.

For more on NEC:
NEC to expand storage channel, sales

Ken Hertzler, the director of server products for NEC, said that NEC has been a niche vendor and OEM in the U.S. for many years, where it has provided network, IT and identity management products. But unlike in Japan, where NEC is the No.1 IT product provider akin to HP or IBM, NEC has not historically been a major-brand player in the U.S. market, he said.

"To customers it appears we have just entered the server space, because we have never promoted our servers as a brand before. In North America, we have had a robust OEM business and have been selling our systems via that avenue under other logos, like Stratus or IBM," Hertzler said. "These are Japanese-designed and -built products, so they are very high quality and design."

NEC, for example, makes the hardware for Stratus Technologies' fault-tolerant server, ftServer, he said. NEC also has its own fault-tolerant server offering for less than $20,000, which is now available in North America.

In the short term, it will be difficult [for NEC] to make a rapid penetration into the market.
Ken Cayton,
research managerIDC

NEC offers a complete server product line for small to large enterprise include six rack-server offerings, four blades, three tower servers, two fault-tolerant servers and a supercomputer.

Ken Cayton, a research manager at IDC, said that NEC's history of quality server products will make the company a strong competitor in the U.S. server market. "In the short term [over the next three years], it will be difficult to make a rapid penetration into the market. For example, to become a solid No. 4 or 5 vendor competing on par with IBM, HP, Dell and Sun," Cayton said. "In the longer term [in the next five-plus years], they should be able to be on the short list of most procurements and show some real traction across the broader U.S. server market."

Cayton added a caveat, however. "This assumes they execute well and build the necessary channels to market to become competitive," he said. "Having channels and market recognition is their big challenge."

NEC heeds energy-efficient and virtualization calls
In addition to providing its existing server portfolio to North American customers, NEC has introduced new servers.

"Over the past six months, we have been interviewing CIOs about their data center pains, and based these servers on those findings," Hertzler said, "Server sprawl is a concern, where there are many dedicated servers but have many idle CPU cycles. CIOs also need to reduce data center operations and equipment costs."

To solve the issues, NEC focused on a key trend: virtualization, he said. "CIOs are virtualizing to consolidate servers and reduce costs and using VMware and to run it. They want servers with more memory, more DIMM [dual-inline memory module] slots and at an effective price point," Hertzler said.

The two new blade servers from NEC include a "green" blade that is more energy efficient than some similar offerings and a larger four-socket blade server.

The new iSeries "green" server, Express5800/i120Ra-e1, is designed with 12 DIMM slots and up to 6 Gb Ethernet ports, supports up to 64 GB memory and up to two multicore Intel Xeon 7300 series low-voltage processors.

Currently, NEC does not offer AMD processors in any of its systems.

At 330 watts vs. 680 watts for conventional 1U servers with 2 CPUs, the iSeries blade server consumes about 50% less power than rackmounts, NEC reported.

The iSeries blade also supports 3.5-inch serial-attached SCSI and serial ATA disk drives with optional RAID 5 capability, and the ExpressScope Engine 2 server management controller, which lets administrators remotely monitor and operate the server.

Several Linux distributions, including Red Hat, SUSE and Fedora, have been tested for operability (installation and startup) on the i120R, and Windows Server is also supported.

NEC's other new server is in the SigmaBlade family, called the NEC Express5800/140Ba-10, a four-socket server with multicore Intel Xeon processors.

The Express5800/140Ba-10 includes 16 DIMM memory sockets for up to 64 GB memory, which makes the hardware well suited to support memory and I/O-hungry virtual machines, Hertzler said.

Pricing and warranties
The new offering i120R is expected to cost around $1,600. The four-socket 140Ba-10 blade server is also priced comparably to standard 3U and 4U rack mounted servers, with an expected street price for the base unit blade of less than $6,000.

As for the quality of the new servers, IDC's Cayton expects it will be high. "NEC has a long history of quality products in Japan and in some segments of the U.S.. The current set of products being introduced in the U.S. look very competitive in both performance and quality when compared to the competition," he said.

In addition, NEC now offers a five-year warranty on servers. "These servers are so high quality, we rarely see them again once they are sold, so we extended the warranty from one year to five years," Hertzler said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

Also, check out our data center blogs; Server Farming, Mainframe Propellerhead, and Data Center Facilities Pro

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