Servers Go Front and Center

Data center projects are rising to the top of the project stack for 2008. Here's why.

General Motors Corp. might be globalizing its business, but in the area of servers, the automaker is thinking small. "The smallest physical-size servers have a far better cost per unit of work than the large, 32-CPU-class boxes," says Mark Hillman, GM's director of global computing centers. The former will serve as building blocks as the company moves from a project-specific, application-centric focus to a standardized server utility model.

The effort started with engineering, but "now we're moving that to the more general-purpose business applications," says Hillman. The results so far have been promising. By shifting from vertically scaled servers to commodity systems, GM reduced operating costs by 65% in its Toronto data center. That project will continue through 2008, Hillman says.

Forecast 2008

More '08 predictions 


GM isn't alone in planning major server projects for the year ahead. In Computerworld's most recent Vital Signs survey, servers topped the list of planned purchases for 2008, and nearly one in three respondents (32%) said that server spending represents the single biggest increase in their IT budgets.

IT executives cite a litany of reasons for moving server-related projects to the front burner. Consolidation is a big one. Some organizations are also preparing for new versions of key software, such as Windows Server 2008, and servers that will come preloaded with an embedded VMware hypervisor to speed the setup of virtual machines. "That's one of the biggest things we'll see," says James Staten, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

Then there are regular server refreshes. After the dot-com crash, many organizations began keeping equipment for four, five or even seven years rather than the usual three. Many of those systems are now being retired.


The top 5 IT project priorities for 2008:

  1. Server-related projects
  2. Storage
  3. Security
  4. Data management
  5. Disaster recovery/business continuity

SOURCE: Computerworld's first-half 2008 Vital Signs survey; September 2007, 103 respondents

"Data centers today have a fairly old infrastructure. We find some very old boxes out there," says Klaus Schmelzeisen, vice president of Hewlett-Packard Co.'s consulting and integration infrastructure practice.

Compared with the Pentium 4-class and older machines still in many data centers, the latest technology performs better, takes up less space and is far more energy-efficient. New servers also use multicore processors, which are better suited for the consolidation of the many Linux and Windows applications that continue to migrate onto virtual machines.

"Forty percent of our servers are virtualized," and that consolidation will continue in 2008, says Jim Hull, group head of network and operations services for MasterCard Worldwide's global technology and operations group.

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