2 The Big Server Push

Strong demand for the benefits of virtualization continues to propel server projects -- despite economic uncertainty.

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IT bargains aren't limited to the financial services sector, says Eric Lindgren, CIO at PerkinElmer Inc., a life sciences and industrial technology company in Wellesley, Mass. "The number of vendors pushing discounts has really gotten extreme," he says, and the number of vendor visits to his offices increased sharply as the year wound down.

Scottrade Inc. is one of the few financial services firms that has benefitted from the credit crisis. As the masses have alternately rushed into and out of the market, the St. Louis-based online brokerage has operated one of the turnstiles through which all of that traffic has passed. "We are seeing record days in our business," says CIO Ian Patterson.

During the tumult, Scottrade took in a huge volume of fees on those trades -- and survived unprecedented stresses on its server infrastructure.

At one point, programmed trading on a single financial firm's stock drove quote-system volatility to the point where prices were changing 600 times per second. Transaction volumes in the data center spiked to 5.5Gbit/sec., says Patterson.

"People were complaining about the markets and the speed. It was insane. I don't think we would have survived if we didn't have some of the hardware that's out there now."

Because it had virtualized its front-end servers and used server blades, Scottrade was able to quickly add capacity to keep up with demand. It's going full speed ahead in 2009 with a planned backup data center and has already begun ordering servers.

Patterson plans to scale up the servers running the company's midtier quoting-system infrastructure -- and its front-end servers. The new servers are fully loaded with the maximum processor core and memory configurations and the fastest processors.

That trend goes beyond online brokerages, says IDC analyst Michelle Bailey. "Virtualization tends to drive a scale-up strategy on the hardware side," she says, as businesses try to reduce the total number of physical machines and gain efficiencies by maximizing the number of virtual machines that can be consolidated onto a single physical server.

To reduce power and cooling loads in the data center, Scottrade will continue to buy PowerEdge servers from Dell Inc. that feature energy-saving technologies such as variable-speed fans, high-efficiency power supplies and low-voltage processors. While that might reduce the data center's carbon footprint, being green "is the flip side of what we're doing anyway," Patterson says. Reducing the cooling and power consumption "goes right to my bottom line."

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