Microsoft Corp.'s first release of its Wolfpack clustering software will not ravage the competition, but it's worth tracking closely.
In PC Week Labs' tests of the initial public beta of Wolfpack, released last week, we found the product is shaping up to be a strong foundation for the future of Windows NT networking. However, proven performers already on the market, including Digital Equipment Corp.'s Cluster for Windows NT software and Stratus Computer Inc.'s RADIO Cluster System, are better near-term choices.
The preview of Wolfpack that we tested had minor glitches but worked well: When we clustered two servers running Windows NT 4.0 with a shared disk subsystem and shut down one of the servers, the interruption was unnoticeable at the client level.
Wolfpack is only a part of what a company needs to assure continuous server operation. Products such as Vinca Corp.'s StandbyServer are needed for the off-site, near-real-time data mirroring to ensure data availability.
The first phase of Wolfpack only allows two nodes to be clustered; performance scalability in the form of load balancing won't be addressed until this two-node restriction is removed in the second phase, due to go to beta testing next year.
Only a handful of cluster-aware applications were available for the beta version that PC Week Labs tested, including Microsoft's Internet Information Server Web server and SQL Server database.
Microsoft plans to ship the first phase of Wolfpack in the summer. Prices have yet to be set.
Really easy does it
Installing Wolfpack was far less complicated than the technology it implements. PC Week Labs configured the software on a Compaq Computer Corp. ProLiant 1500 server node and created a new cluster containing the shared Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disks storage subsystem.
We then installed the software on a similar second server node, this time choosing to join an installed cluster.
Installation of the preview software required Windows NT Service Pack 2. (According to Microsoft officials, the shipping product will require Service Pack 3.)
With the new Cluster Administrator application that was located under NT's familiar Administrative Tools menu, we defined failover specifications and application dependencies.
Although Wolfpack can use standard hardware storage components, Microsoft will ensure compatibility with Wolfpack by certifying complete systems as well as the individual components.