Cutting costs with blades and virtualisation

Virtualisation boosts high-end server sales in ANZ

As New Zealand faces tougher economic times, the pressure will be on IT managers to deliver even more cost savings.

The potential for such savings is one of the drivers behind the use of virtualisation, the adoption of blade servers and server consolidation.

Market analyst firm IDC has just reported that the Australian server market has topped $1 billion for the first time, fuelled by a demand for virtualisation, which underpinned a 40% growth in x86 blade server shipments there in 2007.

The top enterprise server vendors were HP followed by Dell in terms of server units, though IBM was top on dollar value.

David Spratt, manager for technology strategy at Gen-i, says virtualisation is behind much of the demand for 64-bit computing and quad-core technologies. These technologies give more bang for the enterprise buck in processing capacity, making virtualisation more cost effective.

Better server power also means companies looking at thin clients can service more desktops per server.

The new Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 application runs in a 64-bit environment, Spratt continues, so firms are upgrading their servers to 64-bits to take advantage of the new OS’s capablities.

High-powered 64-bit computing also helps organisations go online and offer web services. Mainframes are increasingly being pushed into transaction processing roles, Spratt says, as servers become powerful enough to do more work.

However, the growth of demand for servers is leading to situations where organisations need to consolidate. Servers use a lot of power and take up space, so running costs are as important as the ticket price. Spratt says Gen-i’s customers are increasingly looking at this, plus the costs of maintenance and support.

Cooling and power issues mean Gen-i itself has had to approach its air conditioning experts to see how it could handle all its servers. This growing issue has led vendors to offer a range of new cooling technologies, such as delivering cooling direct to the chipset through the use of software which can turn processors on and off, depending on the workload, to reduce heat.

Sometimes issues surrounding heat and the need to store many servers become too much for an organisation, leading it to seek hosting solutions from firms such as Gen-i.

“We look to virtualise those environments, and take advantage of those technologies mentioned earlier, from a datacentre perspective,” Spratt says.

Spratt advises companies looking at server projects to look at hosting and their own carbon footprint, particularly as new sustainability legislation is on the horizon.

“We think the issue is the green datacentre. Cooling and power are 40% of running costs,” he says.

This seems to be a matter of consensus among systems integrators and server vendors.

Auckland-based Maclean Computing says the mass adoption of virtualisation technologies is “the most exciting thing to hit the world of enterprise servers”, claiming its enterprise server sales have increased by 30% in the last financial year.

Virtualisation offers lower operating and maintenance costs and a few big servers use much less power than many often underutilised little ones. Virtualisation is driving growth in centralised storage capacity, too.

VMware has helped drive the virtualisation charge, but blade servers are also pushing the enterprise server market by offering greater speed, manageability and longer-term cost effectiveness, making higher initial upfront investment worthwhile.

Maclean Computing last year created its own consulting division to help organisations assess such innovations, with director Chris Maclean saying there is usually a trade-off between higher upfront costs and lower total cost of ownership.

While Gen-i reports an uptake of servers using Unix and Linux technologies, Maclean computing also offers Apple servers, claiming customers for these as diverse as ASB Bank and the Auckland Comedy Festival.

Though Apple is best known for its consumer and desktop products, Apple has “impressive” server and storage products, which are increasingly accepted in the corporate arena, Maclean says.

Noting the cost pressures on server users, Jeff Healey, HP’s corporate and enterprise marketing manager, notes further savings can be made. Software tools can improve the management of servers, making this more efficient. But the growth of server power can offer other savings.

Servers tend to be replaced when they are three to five years old, so newer models will be far more powerful than the old, perhaps ten times more powerful. There may be cases where a user does not need so much power, so they can “throttle back” power use and make savings that way.

Organisations don’t always need the flashest equipment and HP has testing centres to help customers find the most efficient offerings.

Healey says servers are also increasingly coming with pre-configured applications, such as Microsoft Small Business Server or firewalls and related security.

Furthermore, as customers move past consolidation, something HP calls “adaptive infrastructure”, HP offers what it calls the “logical server”— a pre-determined template to help firms decide whether to use physical or virtual servers. And, since projects may not proceed straight away, HP can also archive projects and their testing for when the project actually does get off the shelf.

Dell says blade servers are a hot item, predicting 18.6% annual sales growth until 2012.

Blades use less space but power will be an issue as many buildings weren’t designed to supply power to today’s IT systems, says ANZ server product marketing manager Stephen Hemsworth.

Blade use can lead to hot spots, which is why power efficiency and management matters in blade design. Hemsworth claims Dell’s new M-series blades are the most energy efficient systems available.

Customers need to simplify systems and that way they can spend more time on innovation as opposed to maintenance, he adds.

Simplicity and ease-of-use are also key issues for Sun Microsystem’s New Zealand manager John Mazenier. He stresses users look to vendors who offer product support and a product that needs little or no training.

IBM recently simplified its enterprise server offerings and similarly claims much greater power performance. Big Blue also lets its servers switch off chips when not needed. Higher performance means fewer servers are needed which means fewer server accommodation issues.

IBM NZ systems and technology group manager Andrew Fox says licensing costs are ballooning, so the greater use of multi-core chipsets offers relief on some software pricing plans.

Reflecting the new environment, Microsoft Windows Server Marketing manager Tovia Va’aelua says the software giant is changing its licensing model to help companies upgrade their hardware for a virtualised world.

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Tags HPgen-iIDCMaclean ComputingIBMSpecial IDvirtualisation

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