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June 11, 2010
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State of Servers
Server technology is at a crossroads, as x86 performance enhancements threaten the high-end dominance of RISC/Itanium systems. Commodity servers, mostly in blade form factors, are surging toward ubiquity. The result is that the server value proposition is shifting from the processor to peripheral considerations, such as the ability to effectively implement virtualization, system manageability, and power and cooling efficiency.
Indeed, after acquisition cost, the ability to deploy, manage, and redeploy on-the-fly virtual processors (from physical or logical cores) is the single most important factor in server technology today. The uptake of these supporting technologies has been slowed to some degree by constrained IT budgets, set in late 2009, before the green shoots of recovery sprouted. Nonetheless, system consolidation and increased use of virtualization will continue to drive server updates, as IT organizations extract maximum usage from available resources. That's the top-level finding from the 579 business technology professionals who responded to our InformationWeek Analytics State of Server Technology Survey.
"The move to virtual servers for high availability and redundancy has become our goal," says one survey respondent. "Not only does this reduce the hardware footprint, but it also reduces power and cooling needs. We are also looking at solid state drives. This will improve efficiency, reduce power consumption, and increase storage availability."
IT organizations are still buying physical blade, rack, and tower servers, of course. However, in our survey, just 25% of respondents say they plan to increase their overall number of servers in 2010-2011; 31% say they will hold server count constant, and 44% plan to decrease their overall count.
Companies that are upgrading are taking a measured approach to the implementations. The availability of virtualization adds the nuance that boosting capacity is no longer just about buying more boxes.
The number of servers at E.ON U.S. continues to grow at 10% or more per year, says Ray Palazzo, an e-business engineer at the energy services company. But E.ON U.S. divides that count into physical servers, which are steadily declining in number, and virtual servers, which are increasing at a faster rate.
Meantime, with the continued consolidation on 64-bit platforms, the company needs more processing and memory on each physical server it buys. The company's average VMware host server now houses 72 GB of RAM and eight or more physical processor cores. And more widespread SAN usage has "virtually eliminated" the need for large internal storage capacity on servers, Palazzo says.
Budgetwise, our respondents display a "hold the line" mentality. Only 11% plan to ramp up server spending significantly in 2010. The majority, 65%, are looking at either flat or slightly increased server budgets.
More data on buyers' vendor and product preferences
Analysis of new server market player Cisco's strategy
Insight on impact of virtualization and advanced processors
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