Server Buying Guide: FAQs

Your guide to choosing the best servers for your small or medium business

Servers remain a critical component of an IT organisation’s overall infrastructure and operations strategy. To assist IT professionals with their server purchasing requirements, Computerworld has created this step by step Buyers Guide. It includes a server technology checklist, a configuration and management guide as well as a roundup of emerging trends that may shape purchasing decisions. The enterprise Buying Guide also features a Glossary of Terms and begins by addressing the most common Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

What is a server?

Servers provide computing power to facilitate the transfer of data across a network and enables applications, operating systems, file transfers, e-mail, printing and communication among client computers. A server and its client machines form a client/server network which provides routing systems and centralized access to information, resources and stored data. For example, a file server is a machine that maintains files and allows clients or users to upload and download files from it. Similarly, a web server hosts web sites and allows users to access these sites. By using a server, employees can securely share files and resources like fax machines and printers.

A server network allows employees to access the Internet or company e-mail simultaneously. There are many other types of servers such as database servers to facilitate database transactions or audio/video servers which provide multimedia capabilities.

What is a server platform?

This is the hardware or software which acts as an engine driving the server. It is usually used in conjunction with an operating system. Every type of server is generally defined by its configuration and software which enables it to communicate with client machines. Today’s servers can handle a large number of requests, distributing data transfer across a series of servers through a cloud or cluster.

What is an application server?

A subset of traditional data servers, application servers are designed to power frameworks which are involved in extensive processes related to a specific set of software. Application servers can power web-based apps, games, output from scripts and programs as well as serving data from an API (application protocol interface.)

What is a virtual server?

In recent years virtual servers have become increasingly popular. With a virtual configuration, servers are portioned into sub-dedicated areas which provide users with root access and full computing power for their given segment of the server. It reduces expenditure on dedicated hardware.

What is a virtual machine hypervisor?

A virtual machine hypervisor enables the operation of multiple operating systems (OS) instances concurrently on a single physical server, without using a general-purpose host OS for primary access to the hardware. Server virtualization is maturing, and Gartner estimates 40 per cent of all x86 workloads are now running in VMs on top of hypervisors.

What is P2V server management?

Physical to virtual (P2V) server management is defined as products that manage the hypervisor and all virtual machine instances that run on servers. The needs, capabilities, installed bases and maturity of offerings managing these virtual objects are different from the tools managing the hardware.

An analyst at IT research firm, Gartner, Philip Dawson, said enterprises with mature installations of server administration tools, should consider extending these to virtualized environments, not just for consolidation, but also for virtual I/O and other workload migration capabilities. Sample vendors of these tools include HP, IBM, Fujitsu, Dell and Cisco.

What is shared OS Virtualisation (non-mainframe)?

Shared operating system (OS) virtualization refers to products and techniques used to provide an operating environment that enables the operation of multiple applications using a single instance of an OS. It allows for the dynamic allocation of OS resources to each application without affecting their operations. While there are a variety of technologies currently available, Gartner said these products are not fully developed in non-mainframe environments. Unix environments are moving faster in this area than Linux and Windows.

What is server hardware assisted virtualization?

This category of hypervisors is microprocessor-enabled or embedded, literally within the silicon. This allows for virtualization software that runs directly on server hardware with hardware assistance. Additional processor and platform hardware creates a logical space in which the hypervisor can be run, and provides instructional-level support for faster virtual machine operation and virtual input/output (I/O). Sample vendors include AMD, Citrix, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Oracle.

What is grid computing?

Grid computing involves using a large number of computers in a grid to collectively accomplish large tasks, such as derivative risk analysis, and other complex simulations. Grid computing can lower costs and offer business advantage over more traditional approaches. Grid computing is an extension of cluster computing, and it is being used for large scale computations in financial services and pharmaceutical organisations that have appropriate applications, algorithms and new research processes.

What is a skinless server?

Skinless servers are designed with a reduced amount of rack, chassis and, in some cases, even motherboard components to maximise server density potential and reduce material use and power consumption. Typical designs involve a lack of outside sheet metal coverings (hence the term skinless) over individual servers, as well as shared power and cooling resources within the rack frame. There has always been a market for extremely dense server platforms. Initially this was addressed by blade servers. However, the blade market has evolved toward more-sophisticated and diverse workloads, creating a vacuum in the server market that is now addressed by an emerging class of skinless servers.

What is a mobile rack server?

Another important trend in server technology is the growth of rack mounted, mobile servers. To make more efficient use of finite space, rack mounted servers are built on cabinets that allow them to be upgraded with relative ease. Rack servers allow for flexibility as organisations can continue to invest as data needs grow.

Tomorrow: Server Strategy Checklist

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