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Server evaluation trends: Detailed insights from Gartner

Rakesh Sharma & Aman Munglani

Changes in the market and demand are reforming the use of server hardware in a data center. Despite mergers and acquisitions and other market changes, chief information officers continue to buy server boxes. However, with new applications and workload, the server's role is blurring, as it has to enable technologies like virtualization and multi-core. Additionally, new players and acquisitions are also impacting the server hardware market. Today, a shift is being witnessed from Unix to industry-standard servers.

Choosing a server hardware platform

While evaluating

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a server hardware platform, an organization should look at scalability in the box. One of the most important server evaluation criteria for selecting a hardware platform vendor is independent software vendor (ISV) enthusiasm to develop port and application on particular server hardware. Moore’s law should not be used as the basic premise to define the server hardware strategy. A lot of focus is being seen towards mainframe adoption in the last few years.

According to Gartner, Windows is a very popular server platform with Indian organizations. There is a high degree of ISV enthusiasm, when it comes to building applications on the Windows platform. Even for Novell SUSE architecture, there exists great ISV enthusiasm.

Mainframes are great for database intensive and mission critical workloads. However, there is not much ISV enthusiasm for developing new workloads on mainframes, observes Gartner. Despite this, there are many businesses, which run Linux on mainframes. IBM has announced 5000 applications for Linux on the mainframe.

Linux on x86 is reliable and scalable. However, it is less predictable under stressful workloads. Linux on x86 witnessed a 10% Linux growth in 2003 to around 25 per cent currently. Despite the economic downturn, there has been a major shift to the x86 platform due to server virtualization. Most organizations have a lot of critical applications on x86 or Linux, which provides vertical and horizontal scalability. Unix is seen losing market against both of them.

Server hardware preferences

Gartner believes that agility of the infrastructure should be an important criterion while scouting for server hardware. Over virtualization does not help in any way.

For Windows server hardware, the challenge is to sustain growth. With new players entering the market as well as acquisitions, Windows has to continue proving its ground in the server hardware market, notes Gartner. For IBM users, Unix implies reliability on one vendor. Thus, the ability to negotiate prices may reduce. It is therefore, good to have a rival vendor in a data center to get the best deal.

HP Integriti has a very strong base in the mission critical applications.On the other hand,HP Itanium platform will remain niche, as it has no ISV or Intel support. The decision you are making should rely on the application ecosystem and ISV enthusiasm. Thus, the future of HP Itanium is debatable, predicts Gartner.

Oracle (Sun) Sparc is very strong in the Indian market from a Unix perspective. However, Gartner expects maintenance costs to increase.

Fabric-based servers are gaining momentum in the server hardware market. However, it is difficult to predict the future of this latest trend.

About the authors: Rakesh Kumar is the vice president at Gartner Research, and specializes in enterprise infrastructure as well as operations strategies. Aman Munglani, a principal analyst at Gartner Research is a part of the hardware and systems group and focuses on the storage market in India.

(As told to Jasmine Desai)

This was first published in May 2011

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