servers may seem like risky business, especially since
it involves big spending. But by taking the right steps
IS managers can make cautious decisions and choose the
right solutions to ensure return on server investment.
by Brian Pereira
managers are asking different questions about servers
these days. And server vendors no longer pitch their
products on the basis of tpmC, throughput, OLTP performance
and hardware specifications. (These parameters are discussed
later in the procurement process.) Today, instead of
buying excess computing capacity to address future requirements,
IS managers are more focused on immediate short-term
requirements. Indeed, the agenda for server procurement
has changed dramatically.
The need for servers begins with defining the business
requirement and the applications to fulfill it. Then
other factors, like number of nodes/users, availability,
redundancy, scalability etc come into play.
Anil Valluri, Director, Systems Engineering, Sun Microsystems
India says server sizing is a complex exercise and there
are no fixed guidelines. "The decision depends
on workload mix, transaction type and mix; user duty
cycle, usage transients etc."
Valluri says the thumb rule for server sizing is to
start with online applications, then look at the exact
nature of the transactions (complexity, application
logic etc), and arrive at the CPU and I/O utilizations
for a required response time. He says one should look
at the transaction mix and usage patterns, and arrive
at aggregate CPU and I/O requirements.
The IS managers whom we spoke to, say immediate business
requirement comes first. Instead of buying excess server
capacity for the future, they'll buy just enough to
address immediate requirements. And they'll buy a system
that can scale upone that can be upgraded as and
Harsh Kumar, Advisor-IT, Hindustan Petroleum Corp. Ltd.
(HPCL) sums it up well. "You look at the business
need which is to be satisfied through an application.
Then you determine what server that application needs.
The server decision depends on what you are going to
run on it, and what features are required specifically
Kumar (and other decision makers at HPCL) take a different
approach for buying server infrastructure. When talking
to vendors they initially specify the expected server
response time. They talk about the application(s) that
will run on the server and the number of clients that
will connect to it. Various load scenarios are presented,
based on application usage. And nobody's talking about
server components or specifications yet.
When additional server capability is required IS departments
consider three options: reallocate resources, upgrade
the existing server, or replace it with a new one.
Says Hilal Khan, Head-IT, Honda Siel Cars, India Ltd.,
"In case of upgrade, we consider the cost for the
upgrade vs. planned use and the desired results. We
also consider the cost of the upgrade vs. the cost of
a new server. The level of the upgrade is also an important
Server investment is huge; after all it isn't just a
hardware box that one's buying. One has to factor in
the cost of operating system and application licenses.
The cost of a mainstream ERP package, for instance,
can run into several crore of rupees. So the decision
maker gets just one shot at it, and then the server
must be used for at least five years. It must pay for
itself during that period. Naturally, IS managers go
out to buy servers with a long wish list tucked in their
pockets. Once they decide on the applications, workload,
and number of users, it's time to pull out the wish
S.R. Balasubramaniam, VP-Information Technology, HDFC
Bank, puts scalability at the top of his list. "After
considering the type of applications and number of users,
I ask about the scalability. With a Sun E 12K I can
start with four CPUs and then keep on adding processors
as my requirements increasegoing all the way up
to 36 CPUs."
Like all other IS managers, Balasubramaniam is also
concerned about ROI (Return on Investment) and TCO (Total
Cost of Ownership). "The business that is running
out of a particular server should be profitablethe
server should pay for itself. The SLA (service level
agreement) is important too," he says.
The wish list goes on to include other requirements
like redundancy, availability, compatibility/integration
with existing infrastructure; ease of management etc.
Many of these requirements are driven by trends like
Vendors know what server shoppers want. In these times
of constrained IT budgets, everyone's looking for the
best deal: how many of the requirements can be fulfilled
for the best price? Vendors talk about how they can
help enterprises save costs. They no longer sell 'products.'
It's only talk about 'solutions' and 'services' to 'help
enterprises grow business.'
It may seem that the biggest customers for servers these
days are those from the BFSI sector (Banking, Financial
Services and Insurance). Companies like HPCL and HDFC
Bank, which set up data centers within their own premises,
also buy servers every six months or so. Server vendors
regularly visit such companies and are frequently talking
to IS managers. We spoke to some of these vendors and
asked them about the issues that come up in these discussions.
Durgadutt Nedungadi, director, Business Development
and Solutions, Industry Standard Servers, HP Asia Pacific,
says managers are worried about the increasing costs
of managing servers.
"Over the years enterprises have deployed several
discreet servers for various applications within its
infrastructure. Enterprises tell us that the cost associated
with maintaining these servers, and the pain associated
with it is too expensive. So they are looking for ways
to simplify server management," says Nedungadi.
One way to do that is to change the administrator-to-server
ratio. Typically, one administrator manages 4, 6 or
8 servers within a data center. Nedungadi informs that
managers want to change the ratio to 1:20 or 1:25. Modern
network infrastructure management software and techniques
like server consolidation and server partitioning can
make this possible. In fact, the Systems division of
a major financial institution that this magazine recently
visited, employs just four full-time network administrators
to manage its nationwide WAN.
"Another concern is that enterprises want the ability
to buy exactly what they need today and then scale their
resources as their business and requirement grows,"
says Nedungadi. "They'll buy the exact capacity
that they need today, and add more as and when their
Vendors also observe that enterprises are trying to
make optimum use of what they already have. For instance
if an enterprise has a payroll server that's used only
towards the end of the month, and a more critical server
that has high workloads throughout the month, they'd
want to use the payroll server (when it's idle) for
that critical application (for load balancing). So administrators
look for tools that can do server redeployment and reprovisioning.
And server vendors are providing such tools as value-adds.
Buying servers may seem to be a risky proposition as
it involves big spending. But IS managers don't have
to feel like punters placing huge bets at the racecourse.
By taking the right steps (see box: While shopping for
servers) one can make a cautious and suitable decision.
Meta Group analyst Phil Dawsonwho is international
program director for Server Infra-structure Strategiessays
the first thing to do is an assessment of the infrastructure
that's already in place. Then one should consider the
business need to fit the application. Finally, one should
measure the transitional elements of migrating to the
"The biggest thing managers are missing is the
cost of change. They should factor in things like software
licenses, required hardware etc," avers Dawson.
Dawson advises managers to consider the number of applications,
and to stop worrying about scalabilitysince most
platforms are scalable. "I think workload management
and measurement is more important now."
And here's some more advice from the people who deal
M. Ganesh, Country Manager, Enterprise Systems Group,
IBM India says, before making investment decisions,
organizations must develop clear mutual metricsestimates
of costs, benefits, flexibility and risksthat
unite technology solutions with business goals and strategies.
Pallab Talukdar, Director, Business Critical Servers,
HP India, advises IS managers to think long-term and
choose a vendor, platform and server accordingly. "IS
managers need to ask questions about roadmaps, adaptive
infrastructure, balanced performance and the number
of applications that can run simultaneously."
Sun's Valluri cautions against server benchmarks. He
says benchmarks like TPC-C for sizing are done in environments
that are not related to customer requirement. "Customers
should insist on performance testing of their own applications
or do a comparison based on a set of real world benchmarks
for SAP R/3, PeopleSoft Oracle etc. These real application
workloads give a fair idea as to how the servers will
stack up. Then the conclusions should be factored in
with batch loads and the unique characteristics of customer
In light of constrained IT spending, managers need to
take a cautious approach when procuring servers. Before
considering new servers one should think about reorganization
or redeployment of existing infrastructure.
like load balancing and consolidation should be considered
too. Various load scenarios should
be simulated in an enterprise environment, with the
Do not overlook other related factors like server room
environment, server operating system and applications.
The vendor is likely to prescribe a set of ideal conditions
under which the server should operate. Some managers
outsource areas like server room facilities and server
monitoring. Also plan for future expenses on software
upgrades, spare components etcthis is better known
as TCO (total cost of ownership).
When making purchasing decisions one should always keep
return on IT investment in mind.
managers and administrators look for ...
Enterprises are more focussed on immediate,
Business requirement and applications come first.
Can the server fulfill this requirement?
Servers should be scalable or upgradable for
Managers look for ways to reduce the cost of
managing multiple servers.
Ease of management.
To make optimum use of resources, administrators
use tools to redeploy or reprovision servers
on the fly.
Long-term support (SLA). Does the platform have
a long roadmap?
How does the server respond to various load
How well does the server fit in with existing
Total cost of ownership (TCO) and Return on
Server availability and redundancy.
shopping for servers
Match your business application and the application
workload to a specific server type/platform.
How can your business leverage on the server's
features and specifications?
Ask the vendor about the server (or processor)
How well will the new server fit into existing
Check response time, scalability, reliability,
and availability factors.
Calculate TCO and cost of future hardware and
Factor in cost of the operating system and applications.
Check ease of deployment, redeployment, reprovisioning,
Ask the vendor about server room environmental
conditions (support infrastructure).
If possible, test the server in your own business
environment, with your own applications. Simulate
various load scenarios.
Ask the vendor about support services, the SLA,
Pereira can be reached at email@example.com