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Server Outlook: 2003 and beyond

It seems all the technological developments for servers center around cost savings and simplified server management. Here's a round up of current server trends. by Brian Pereira

The year 2002 was hard on server vendors. The economic malaise forced enterprises to cut spending on IT infrastructure. This thinned server margins, prompting vendors to lend a more careful ear to enterprise requirements. Managers now talk only about saving costs and making maximum utilization of the existing resources. Those going in for new servers prefer industry standard platforms and server lines with long roadmaps—after all long-term vendor commitment is important. The various considerations that CIOs/CTOs have (see previous story) has set off a number of trends, as discussed below.

Consolidation
Over the years enterprises deployed several servers for discreet applications at disparate locations. Along with that came the investment in software applications and personnel to manage the servers. Today, the cost of managing these servers is eating into operational expenses. One way to control costs here is server consolidation—aggregation/centralization of server applications on single servers with multiprocessing
capability.

"Consolidation is gaining momentum not only in large enterprises but also the SMBs, though at different levels," says Vinod Nair, Research Analyst, PCs, Servers & Workstations, Gartner India. "The need for additional capacity is now being contested with the argument for consolidation and centralization, leading to better resource management and lower downtimes. However, lack of education on the pros and cons of consolidation is severely felt leading to the death of this initiative, in many cases. This is big time opportunity for vendors, especially to target large corporate accounts."

Another Gartner analyst, John Phelps, says there are three forms of server consolidation: Logical, Physical and Rational. He explains that logical consolidation means deploying a set of common best practices and management to all of a company's servers, rather than relocating or eliminating servers. Physical consolidation means the co-location of multiple platforms at fewer locations. This means centralizing servers in fewer physical locations, by looking for overlapping areas in hardware and software functionality. Rational consolidation means applying the latest techniques for server consolidation, like clustering with workload management and server partitioning.

Phil Dawson, Program Director (International), Server Infrastructure Strategies, Meta Group, says enterprises should consider co-location (moving the servers to the same location). "We think there is a trend in consolidation. Enterprises also need to consider some sort of storage consolidation and services. Then they have to rationalize and think about reducing the complexity and cost of projects."

Dawson says one should consider workloads when planning consolidation. "For instance, if a 4-way Intel Xeon server offers 70,000 tpmC, one should calculate the number of workloads it can handle."

TCO and Management
Since consolidation centralizes servers and applications, it simplifies server management and reduces Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Fewer licenses will be required for expensive server software, and fewer personnel are required to manage the servers.

Server vendors are trying to address the TCO factor through value adds—tools and technologies that make servers easier and less expensive to manage. IBM has Project eLiza, an autonomic computing initiative that aims to make servers self-healing. HP (through its acquisition of Compaq) has an initiative called Adaptive Infrastructure—the ability of the system to respond to changing workloads. Adaptive Infrastructure has four tenets: virtual presence, automated system provisioning, intelligent fault resilience, and dynamic resource scaling. To address this, HP offers a suite of software tools called HP Proliant Essentials, with its Proliant range of servers.
Meta Group analyst Phil Dawson says the management of the servers is key for customers when considering a move to Intel/Linux or Intel/Windows 2000. "Many high-end platforms are sold on the strength of their single points of management."

Linux servers
There's no doubt that Linux is gaining ground in the enterprise computing space. While enterprises now use it for "edge of the network" applications (like firewalls, Web servers, messaging servers), the question is: Is Linux ready for mission critical business applications? Also, Linux servers are being perceived as a growing threat to the RISC/Unix servers.

IDC expects Linux to gain ground on Unix, especially in competition with RISC/Unix based systems. And Gartner predicts that worldwide, Linux-based server shipments will double in 2003. Gartner says that Linux will be taken more seriously in the enterprise market, especially in the telecommunications and Web application server markets.
Meta Group Analyst Phil Dawson says, "We see a big move to Linux, especially for application servers and Web servers, but not as much as the database platform. As a result we see that Linux is predominantly dominant on Intel. The volume of application development is on Intel. The predominance of Linux on Intel is eating into Unix on RISC."

Unix/RISC servers
If Linux on Intel is eating into Unix on RISC, are the days of the latter numbered? Are all those traditional Unix/RISC deployments going to migrate to Linux/Intel anytime soon? Mathew Boon, Principal Analyst, Hardware Platforms, Gartner says RISC will continue to be around for awhile.

"As we see Intel pushing up to the Unix market with their Xeon MP and 64-bit Itanium systems, one questions the survivability of the RISC/Unix market. We feel it will survive through 2010 or beyond," says Boon.
Boon made a presentation at the Nasscom-Gartner conference in Mumbai last year. He explained that Unix/RISC systems will continue to evolve and will be used for large back-end databases. These systems will offer mainframe-like capabilities.

"Intel systems will not take over RISC and RISC will not take over the mainframe. These will continue to have their own spheres of expertise," said Boon.

Meta Group analyst Phil Dawson has a similar opinion. "The volume RISC servers are going to move into a back-end database market. People will choose Intel for the volume market—the app server, the Web server. For database servers, they are going to decide if eight processors are enough. 8-way (Intel) servers are doing far more what a 24-way or 32-way RISC server was doing three years ago."

Dawson says performance is no longer an issue. Those customers who needed more than 8-way or 16-way systems would straightaway consider Unix as the back-end.

New Unix servers
The fact that leading server vendors (like IBM, Sun, HP, and Fujitsu) continue to invest in RISC/Unix may be taken as a sign of "extended life" for this platform. A new generation of high-end Unix servers, with high-availability and high-reliability mainframe-like features has emerged. These servers are ideal for consolidating smaller workloads and to host large applications.

The current Sun Fire 12K and 15K high-end servers can scale to 72 or 106 processors and have interconnect technology from the erstwhile supercomputer maker Cray.

IBM's p690 Unix servers (popularly called Regatta) have inherent mainframe features with advanced functions such as partitioning, resource management and clustering.

HP's Superdome server has hardware and software partitioning along with resource and workload management software.

Multi-processor Intel servers
Intel Itanium servers are growing in strength. From the 4-way Xeon servers and dual Itanium systems, Intel and its partners are going full steam ahead to deliver 8-way, 16-way and 32-way systems. Intel has technical partnerships with IBM, HP, NEC, Bull, Hitachi, Fujitsu and Unisys—who have either pledged chipset support, devised their own architectures for multiprocessor systems, or co-working on 64-bit compiler technology. NEC and Fujitsu have already developed 32-way Itanium servers. Intel knows that multi-processor servers are the key to gaining market share in the high-end server space.

Clustering vs. Big iron
Intel is moving towards 'Big Iron' with its multi-processor servers, but some argue that the market for such servers is shrinking. Rather than pay $1 million a box, most enterprise requirements would be fulfilled with a set of low-cost servers tied together in a cluster, with workload management software.
While Dell backs clustering and does not see much market for big iron, HP is strategically backing both.

HP's Talukdar says most of the commercial applications are written such that they run in one large shared memory. "Yet at the same time, for strategic computing there is a lot of scope for parallel code, to enable the program to run on a cluster of smaller and less expensive computers. Today there are commercial applications like Oracle 9i Rack that can 'scale out'— you can run the application on five parallel servers (in a cluster). So we see developments taking place on both fronts and hence support both big iron and clustering."

Blade servers
These are ideal for environments where space and electrical power are limited, and powerful processors are not an absolute necessity. Those thinking about server consolidation might want to consider blades, especially since these are easier to manage.
All server vendors either offer blade servers or are planning to do this year.

Blade servers are commonly used in data centers, but are yet to make a big splash in Indian enterprises. However, enterprises with fast growing businesses are likely to go in for blades sooner or later.

There are two main factors hampering widespread use of blades. Enterprises find these too costly, and secondly, these are too proprietary in their design and architecture.

Server applications
As businesses increasingly transact over the Internet, they are moving their applications from the traditional client-server environment to Web-based architecture.

"Previously when applications were written, programmers had an idea how many users would use it within the organization. But when you open up your applications to the Web, you are unsure about the number of users. So you have to design your applications so that they can quickly scale, depending on the traffic coming in. So this re-architecting of applications from client server to Web-based places much more demand on the back-end servers," says Pallab Talukdar, Director, Business Critical Servers, HP India.

K.P. Unnikrishnan, Country Head-Marketing, Sun Microsystems India agrees. He says applications are now architected around Web and Java abstraction and not on client-server architectures. "This new Web-based thin front-end with a highly scalable back-end is what customers are looking for—they are not interested in operating system level details and deployments."

Heterogeneous environments
With server hardware and software vendors vying for a larger share in the enterprise space, one wonders which platforms will be dominant and which will start to fizzle out. Going by what the analyst and vendors say, it seems discreet platforms will co-exist in a heterogeneous environment.

Meta Group analyst Phil Dawson says, "People are going to support Windows and Linux Web application servers in mixed heterogeneous environments, with legacy Unix or legacy mainframe database platforms. The future of Unix is in the data center. When it comes to a choice of high-end databases, it's DB2 on mainframes, Unix/Oracle and SQL server on Windows 2000. There are exceptions to this rule, but that's where the mass market is."

HP's Pallab Talukdar says, in future there will be three levels of operating systems in datacenters: Linux, Windows and Unix. "Enterprises will use Unix for high-end database servers. Many front-end applications, perhaps some back-end application will run on Windows. And Linux will be used at the edge of the network for tasks like networking, load balancing, security servers, caching servers etc."

Some server vendors are playing it safe and are offering support for different server operating systems. HP for instance offers customers a choice of HP-UX, Linux or Windows. Some of its servers can be partitioned, and each partition can run a different operating system.

Server trends and predictions
  • Server Consolidation is gaining momentum not only in large enterprises but also the SMBs.
  • Server vendors are trying to address the TCO factor through value adds—tools and technologies that make servers easier and less expensive to manage.
  • Linux servers gaining ground in the enterprise. Gartner predicts that worldwide, Linux-based server shipments will double in 2003.
  • Unix/RISC systems will continue to evolve and will be used for large back-end databases. These systems will offer mainframe-like capabilities.
  • A new generation of high-end Unix servers, with high-availability and high-reliability mainframe-like features has emerged. These servers are ideal for consolidating smaller workloads and to host large applications.
  • Intel Itanium servers are growing in strength. From the 4-way Xeon servers and dual Itanium servers, Intel and its partners are going full steam ahead to deliver 8-way, 16-way and 32-way systems.
  • Server clustering is emerging as a more affordable solution, but more clustering applications are needed.
  • Blade servers are commonly used in data centers, but are yet to make a big splash in Indian enterprises. However, enterprises with fast growing businesses are likely to go in for blades sooner or later.
  • Server applications are moving from the traditional client-server environment to Web-based architecture.
  • Different server platforms will co-exist in heterogeneous environments.
Server trends for India

Last year was tough for vendors in the wake of the slowdown, forcing tight end-user spending budgets. Customers were conservative in their IT hardware purchases. This resulted in heavy discounting by vendors to win crucial accounts. As a result average-selling prices plummeted to realistic levels, sometimes even below that, benefiting customers in these tough times.

End-user organizations are continuously focusing on cost reduction and are also aiming to derive more business value from IT. While some organizations delayed their purchases due to budget constraints, another trend observed was the tendency to migrate to higher end systems from existing volume servers. In their bid to reduce total cost of ownership, customers have preferred value propositions with the long-term perspective in mind. On the whole, customers are cautiously evaluating their hardware spending to maximize returns on investment.

Consolidation is gaining momentum not only in large enterprises but also the SMBs, though at different levels. The need for additional capacity is now being contested with the argument for consolidation and centralization, leading to better resource management and lower downtimes. However, lack of education on the pros and cons of consolidation is severely felt leading to the death of this initiative, in many cases. This is big time opportunity for vendors, especially to target large corporate accounts.

Linux is finding increasing acceptance among the user community as more applications are being devised on this platform. With an increasing number of software vendors parking their applications on Linux, end users can expect improving service and support levels. Some state level governments have also shown the eagerness to adopt this low cost option to achieve their computerization objective. In sum, this will mark an increase in the number of Linux based server shipment. However, it is still too nascent to displace the high-end Unix market.

Telecom and finance still remain the demand drivers in the coming year.

— Vinod Nair, Research Analyst, PC's, Servers & Workstations, Gartner India

Brian Pereira can be reached at brianp@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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