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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Energy efficiency is a big concern for Jai Chanani, director of technical services at Rent-A-Center Inc. He's consolidating through virtualization, and he's partially filling some racks. But, he says, "we want to make sure we're using power efficiently because of the cost." He's looking for features such as intelligent power management and power-saving hardware such as the variable-speed cooling fans used on his HP BladeSystem c-Class server blades.

Lorraine Bartlett, vice president of business-critical systems at Hewlett-Packard Co., says the vendor will continue to focus on energy efficiency and cooling requirements this year. In the mission-critical server area, HP moved its NonStop servers to a blade architecture last year. That doubled performance, cut the footprint in half and kept energy use in check -- but it also increased power density, which means more heat in a smaller space. This year, NonStop systems built around Intel's Itanium Tukwila processor will offer 25% better performance while using 25% less power, Bartlett says.

Limited by Licensing

James Fortner, general manager of IT infrastructure and corporate real estate for the global business services division of The Procter & Gamble Co., says P&G is migrating all of its mission-critical systems to a hosted data center operated by HP in Atlanta. (P&G has outsourced most of its IT operations to HP.) P&G wants best-in-class disaster recovery, and it wants all of its critical servers to be backed by service-level agreements that require vendors to respond within two hours if there's a problem. "That's the No. 1 project this year," says Fortner.

Virtualization and Itanium-based blades are part of that strategy, says Steve Lutz, vice president and general manager at HP. "You'll see us dealing with more power density to compute power in each blade and better virtualization at the chip level," Lutz says. What's slowing the process, he says, is the inability of enterprise software vendors like Oracle Corp. and SAP AG to formally support virtualization and optimize their software to take full advantage of virtualization's capabilities.

"Vendors do not have an explicit policy for supporting virtual machines yet," adds Gartner analyst Tom Bittman.

Software licenses based on the total number of processors are also placing limits on which applications can be consolidated onto multiprocessor servers. "This forces users to go with dual-processor systems," Bittman says. IDC predicts a relative increase in shipments of two-processor servers in 2010, with four-processor servers continuing to account for 5% to 6% of all shipments. Bittman's advice: "Don't go to large servers unless you know it won't raise your licensing costs." However, some vendors, including Microsoft Corp. and Citrix Systems Inc., have changed their licensing models to accommodate virtual machines.

So far, licensing issues haven't held back Media General. "We've lucked out in that all the applications we've done so far are licensed on a per-server or a per-user basis and ... the vendor doesn't care whether it's physical or virtual," Miller says. But he's still sticking with dual-socket systems. Four- or eight-socket systems concentrate too much power and too many virtual machines into too small of a space for his taste. "That makes me nervous. I like spreading out the load," he says. Nonetheless, licensing costs are still a big issue. For every $5,000 Miller spends on a server, he spends another $7,000 on infrastructure software, such as Windows Server, backup software and VMware.

With budget pressures still a concern, IT departments will remain intently focused on virtualization and consolidation. "I want to reduce my count," says Beach. "We don't see anything that limits us technologywise."

Next: Testing out new tech

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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