Advanced server features on tap for 2001

Users can expect thinner, faster servers in the coming year, with a smattering of new features and services designed to make installing, maintaining and paying for the new hardware more flexible. Specifically, server vendors such as Hewlett-Packard Co., Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM Corp., Compaq Computer Corp. and Dell Computer Corp. say they plan to bolster turnkey systems optimized for Internet data centers, offer power-saving servers that save on utility costs, and offer payment schemes that let users pay for only the CPUs they use.

For end users such as Geoff Ralston, vice president and general manager of the communications services group at Yahoo Inc., critical system server features he'd like to see include integrated remote management for the manifold server farms that power Yahoo's Internet data centers. He'd also like to see platforms that let his developers more easily control the software that runs on those servers. Ralston says that's why Unix- and Linux-based servers, which offer stability and an open development environment, are so popular in today's Web and e-commerce infrastructure.

Last year Linux support came from big names such as IBM, Dell and Compaq, signaling the operating system's arrival at the enterprise door. IBM even touted Linux applications on its mainframes.

This year users will see more Linux-based server cluster technology. 2netFX and Linux Networx said they will offer users streaming media for Linux clustered computer systems. Linux Networx makes large-scale Linux cluster systems, including the Evolocity„ 1240s, for users with Internet data centers.

Compaq is also committed to the Linux platform - it recently announced a joint technology agreement with SteelEye, which makes Linux cluster software. SteelEye also certified its LifeKeeper Version 3.1 cluster technology to run on Compaq's ProLiant family of servers. Turbolinux says it will start shipping Turbolinux Server 6 software for IBM's eServer z900 and S/390 mainframe computing platforms. IBM has made much of its ability to run Linux on its mainframes and has made about $1 billion in investments on the Linux front.

Server makers including Compaq, IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. are also focusing on users loyal to the Unix platform. Sun kicked off the new year with low-end Unix offerings aimed at users who like the reliability and upgradability of Unix-based systems. Those systems are expected to populate Web and e-commerce data centers.

Estimates by market research firm International Data Corp. showed that in 1999, worldwide server revenue was US$61.4 billion, with Unix taking in $28 billion and Windows NT $11.9 billion. The numbers for 2000, which are not yet complete, don't look much different, IDC's Jean Bozman says.

Thin and easy

Vendors such as Compaq, IBM, Dell, Sun and HP will try this year to appeal to users who want thin servers and appliance devices. Basically, thin servers can be used to build server farms in small spaces - a requirement because most e-commerce and even corporate data centers are trying to save on the enormous costs of space associated with server buildout.

Appliance servers are a class of devices optimized to fit specific needs in corporate and e-commerce data centers. They come fully loaded with operating systems and often even application software designed to handle specific duties such as Web hosting or security. Cache, proxy, name and address servers are going to become an increasingly commonplace way of off-loading work from servers so they can handle more transactions.

This year vendors say they will focus on making those boxes thinner than ever and as simple to manage as possible.

At Dell, Gene Austin, vice president of worldwide marketing for enterprise servers, says the company is going to focus on honing the integration of applications on servers. "Our appliance business has been doubling every quarter since we came out last year, and one of the reasons is that customers can just turn it on and get it ready to do the job. That's very appealing, because they don't have a lot of people for installs," Austin says. He notes that "one of the biggest concerns our customers have is the shortage of IT staff."

In the way of thin servers, end users will see ever-thinner, less power-hungry machines available to them. RLX Technologies Inc. plans to offer a server that will break the traditional single-rack-unit measurement (1.75 inches) - now considered ultraslim - and eat up half the power of a normal server. Dell and Compaq say they are keeping an eye on that market, as well, but have no firm product rollouts.

Management

Of course, server management is an ongoing issue for users and one that server makers say they are trying to improve. IBM last year came out with a line of servers designed to do some self-diagnosis and fixes. All IBM's eServers now let customers monitor systems remotely and through Web-based reports. IBM also outfitted new servers with its Advanced Server Processor, which lets network managers manage a rack of 42 servers from a single remote connection. Its eSeries servers also feature Lightpath, a diagnostics tool that directs network managers to a compromised component either online or offline.

Compaq has steadily increased the number of features on its Remote Insight management software. One of the features the company will play up this year is the ability for users to remotely install operating systems on network servers. In data centers with hundreds of servers, the option could save days of labor.

Vendors are beginning to come out with programs that take into account, literally, the cash flow realities and usage peaks and valleys their users have. While pay-per-use schemes used to be part of the mainframe realm, the idea is moving down into nonmainframe ranks this year. Sun and HP already offer users pay-per-CPU options.

HP's LPR 1000 R, which debuted in late January, can be paid for on a "utility pricing" model for companies whose sites experience occasional spikes in traffic. In the utility pricing model, customers pay according to how often CPU and other resources are used.

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