Last week's Hardware Today Server Snapshot focused on HP, a vendor attempting to consolidate disparate product lines onto x86 and Itanium architectures while still responding to market demands.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of the processors it uses. Several months ago, the market turned sweet for AMD-Opteron-based servers. HP responded with much fanfare and added two such offerings to its multilevel server stable.
Although some might read the additional platform support as evidence of a lack of confidence in a much-touted 64-bit Intel Itanium road map, the move demonstrates HP's responsiveness to customer needs.
This week, we follow up our Server Snapshot with a look at Townsend Analytics, a long-standing HP ProLiant customer that recently chose the vendor's Opteron upgrade path over that of Itanium.
Townsend Analytics is a software developer and service provider for the financial services industry. The company currently deploys what Lead Hardware Engineer Jon Akeson describes as a "few hundred" 2-way Xeon ProLiant DL360s, in a mix of older DL360 G1 or G2 and current G3 machines. For the most critical customer trade data applications, Akeson's group deploys clusters of ProLiant DL380 G3 servers. Other sporadic deployments include 4-way ProLiant ML570s and legacy 2-way ProLiant 6400s.
Townsend is a Microsoft shop, running Windows 2003 and Windows 2000 based servers with a few NT servers added to the mix. A batch of 1U DL360s run Townsend's own Windows-based RealTick stock quote distribution software. 1U commodity servers are sufficient, as the software performs its own load balancing and doesn't require redundancy.
|The ProLiant DL360|
"This is streaming data, for the most part, so where the data comes from is not as important as the fact that it's coming from someplace," Akeson said. If a 1U machine crashes, unique data will not be lost. Other 1U servers fill traditional Web server and Web-enabled application roles.
For more state-dependent applications (like order routing) or small databases, Akeson's team relies on the dual power supplies, redundant memory and larger hard drive capacity inherent to multiprocessor DL380s. "More redundant machines, we use for situations where we're actually carrying information about stocks that a customer's ordered," Akeson said.
Some DL380s are deployed in prepackaged two-server clusters from HP. These are Fibre Channel or SCSI-equipped and sturdily support Townsend's Microsoft SQL Server-based tasks. "So far they've been bulletproof," Akeson says, as a "convenient higher availability option for our most critical, state dependent customer data."
Although Townsend does occasionally use other vendors, it mainly deploys products from HP, and Akeson does not see this changing, even in the long term.
Townsend's relationship with HP originated with Compaq. Following the acquisition, it continued its relationship with the new vendor for several reasons. "They have a very consistent set of deployment and manageability features, which makes it extremely easy for our entire operations group to deploy them in a consistent way," Akeson says, "which can be difficult when you have over 40 people in an operations department, all deploying servers." He cites good management tools, good reliability, and an "extremely proactive" support response by HP as other reasons for continued satisfaction.
Standardized accessories and form factors in equipment, like hard drives, and power supplies also help protect Townsend's investments. "When you have several hundred machines, you need to be able to move your parts around," Akeson said. "Sometimes we tear entire systems down, then put them back up in a different way," he adds, "we don't want to have to buy different parts, just because we're using a specific piece of equipment."