Servers get a makeover in 2010

Virtualization will hit a hot streak in 2010, and enterprises will order more systems fully loaded with maximum processing power, memory and I/O capabilities

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Miller is "probably right" about how much he'll spend, says Paul Prince, chief technology officer of the enterprise product group at Dell Inc. The biggest trends for 2010, he says, will be more memory, faster processors and more aggressive I/O. Prince also says he expects to see a higher demand for blade servers, a popular consolidation platform. But he warns that as IT moves from 20 virtual servers per physical machine to 30, 50, 100 or more, availability requirements start to rise -- and that may force people like Miller to either spread out the load or move beyond that $5,000 sweet spot to higher-end systems with more robust memory subsystems and other high-availability features. Technically, a dual-socket system designed around Intel Corp.'s Westmere chip will be capable of supporting 100 virtual machines. But will you want to go there? "At some point, you have to ask yourself how many eggs you want in one basket," Prince says.

Online brokerage Scottrade Inc. is virtualizing its front-end 1U servers and migrating them onto server blades. "We've gone to full-blown virtualization, especially on our front ends, and we see the expansion of that continuing," says CIO Ian Patterson. As a host for virtual machines, blade servers are on par with what 1U systems can offer, he says. "The chips are faster, performance of the backplane and chassis throughput is faster," says Patterson. The reduced latency and improved throughput within the blade server chassis was a critical factor in Scottrade's decision to move from 1U servers to blades.

But the servers that power the brokerage's "ticker plant," which handles trades, are still 1U models -- for now. "We use the biggest boxes Dell has," Patterson says. Each 1U server is maxed out with memory and processors, and that's still not enough. "We're looking at re-evaluating how we do that, because of speed and latency issues," he says. "When you grow [to] over 200 servers, you have to think, is there a better mousetrap?" One option Patterson considered was building Scottrade's software algorithms into the firmware to boost performance.

Many organizations with high-performance computing needs rely on InfiniBand as a high-speed, low-latency interconnect between servers. That might change, says Prince. As prices come down and the technology moves into the mainstream, he expects the use of 10 Gigabit Ethernet in high-performance environments to gather steam. "If you're an InfiniBand shop, now may be the time to move to Ethernet," he says.

Return to Green

Green IT fell victim to budget cuts in 2009, with organizations focused on improving energy efficiency acting only when they were running out of power or cooling capacity in the data center. If it cost extra, IT wasn't buying. Prince says that Dell's small and midsize business customers have hesitated to pay extra to buy Energy Star-rated products.

In the enterprise, it's all about data center real estate, and server consolidation projects enabled by virtualization are opening up floor space, says Rockwell Bonecutter, data center technology and operations practice lead at Accenture Ltd. If a rack full of high-density servers is too hot or there aren't enough power cables to a rack to fully load it with servers, data center administrators typically spread them out a bit. But energy efficiency is coming back into focus this year. "There's a renewed interest in sustainability," says Bonecutter.

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