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Nehalem: Intel's Virtual Workhorse Hits Its Stride

As we enter 2010, Intel's Nehalem processors are sitting pretty in the server market sweet spot. For SMBs, this is good news for a number of reasons.
As we enter 2010, Intel's Nehalem processors are sitting pretty in the server market sweet spot. For SMBs, this is good news for a number of reasons.Last spring, Nehalem was still the new kid on the block. At the time, Intel and its hardware OEM partners were focusing mostly on the enterprise market -- a fitting choice, given the premium attached to servers using the technology.

It quickly became apparent, however, that Nehalem offered a combination of power, performance, and efficiency that could allow a company to recoup its hardware costs pretty quickly. Better still, by autumn companies like Dell were routinely selling entry-level systems featuring quad-core Xeon servers for less than $600.

At this point, most of us have heard the same story so many times, with regard to so many different technologies, that we forget just how remarkable it really is. And while some SMBs simply can't afford any new tech investments right now, for everyone else this is precisely the time to adopt server technology that can deliver substantial, long-term maintenance and management benefits.

Consider a relevant fact: According to Intel, more than 40 percent of the servers currently deployed in datacenters are still running on single-core chips. Among SMBs, I'll wager this number is substantially higher.

The next step, however, is to find a way actually to compound the return on your company's server investments. That is where server virtualization -- another technology that is just hitting its mass-market stride -- enters the picture.

Don't Miss: NEW! Virtualization How-To Center

Multi-core processors could, by themselves, make the server consolidation process much easier. Yet a typical Xeon system also delivers a fatter memory footprint, a wider range of I/O options, and other virtualization-friendly enhancements.

Earlier this year, a Dell executive told InformationWeek SMB that Nehalem servers could enable a company to run as many as 18 typical virtual servers on a single physical system. In many cases, that is a very optimistic estimate -- but in many others, it is actually pretty reasonable. Either way, it indicates the impact that commodity-priced Nehalem servers, combined with a maturing, incredibly competitive virtualization solution market, will have on SMBs.