The server market as a whole is thriving, with 64-bit, dual core, and virtualization earning A's.
The server hardware business has been good as of late. According to IDC, the $12.1 billion in revenue generated in the first quarter 0f 2005 represents the eighth consecutive period of revenue growth. And that growth is expected to continue, driven by advances in 64-bit, dual-core, and virtualization technologies.
"AMD has had 64-bit addressing extensions to x86 processors on the market for a while, Intel recently introduced it, but most important, Microsoft has finally released Windows Server x64 to support it," said Gartner analyst John Enck. "My clients are looking for where this technology may be helpful — and where it might be an alternative to other 64-bit technology, such as Itanium and SPARC."
IBM is one vendor quick to embrace various flavors of 64-bit computing. According to Jay Bretzmann, director of IBM eServer products, the x86 instruction set architecture will soon be the largest 64-bit server platform in the industry from a software development standpoint.
"The new 64-bit Xeon and Xeon MP servers are finding acceptance for running enterprise business applications in addition to traditional 32-bit roles for file and print sharing, e-mail, and Web serving workloads," says Bretzmann.
"The new 64-bit Xeon and Xeon MP servers are finding acceptance for running enterprise business applications in addition to traditional 32-bit roles for file and print sharing, e-mail, and Web serving workloads." — Jay Bretzmann, director of IBM eServer products
IBM also introduced the eServer X3 architecture, the culmination of a three year, $100 million development effort to bring mainframe-capabilities to 64-bit Intel Xeon processor-based xSeries servers. He reports that X3 provides up to 46 percent higher 4-way performance than the previous generation of Intel Xeon processor-based systems. It also enables businesses to simultaneously run 32- and 64-bit applications and more rapidly process large amounts of data.
Not surprisingly, other major server vendors have made their own 64-bit announcements. HP has been busy standardizing its many server lines on Intel processors. Itanium-2 processors, for example, have been added for the Integrity/OpenVMS and HP NonStop servers for the first time.
"With the addition of Itanium, price/performance has jumped up 2.5 times over previous NonStop offerings," says Brian Cox, director of worldwide server marketing, HP Business Critical Servers.
Cox is happy with the market response to HP 64-bit Integrity line. HP Integrity Server Solution sales, he says, exceeded $1 billion in 2004. The Itanium/NonStop combination will be released in July. It will be the first commercial server to scale to up to 4,080 Itanium 2 processors.
On the ProLiant side, HP has introduced the HP ProLiant DL580 G3 and the HP ProLiant ML570 G3, both of which include the 64-bit Intel EM64T Xeon multiprocessor.
Sun, meanwhile, has added AMD 64-bit offerings quite successfully. IDC reports that in first-quarter 2005 Sun shipped more servers with the AMD Opteron processor for Linux and Unix than any other vendor. This is an encouraging sign that Sun's recent strategic shifts are starting to bear fruit. Not so encouraging are the cuts to its engineering and sales staff made last week.
Sun introduced the Sun Fire V20z server and Sun Fire V40z server with the 2.6 GHz AMD Opteron processor; both come with the Solaris 10 Operating System pre-installed.
"Sun will pursue continued growth and market share server gains for both Sun and AMD at the expense of less-competitive Intel Xeon EM64T-based servers," says Graham Lovell, senior director of x86 servers in Sun's Network Systems Group. "Sun will also pursue increased adoption of Solaris 10 in x64 based servers for enterprise deployment."
He believes end users are increasingly adopting 64-bit servers to replace their aging 32-bit models. He has also observed significant migration to the 64-bit x86 platform at the expense of 32-bit Xeon coupled with consolidation of multiple small servers onto at least one large 64-bit server.
>> Virtualization and dual core
Gartner Enck notes a parallel trend with 64-bit acceptance — the introduction of dual-core support for x86 processors.
"Dual-core support will allow customers to continue to up the performance ramp with x86 processors without experiencing high heat and high power loads," says Enck.
The Sun Fire V40z (4 processors) and Sun Fire V20z (2 processors) servers, for example, support dual-core technology to give a 4-processor system the performance of an 8-way server. IBM, too, has announced the eServer xSeries 366, the first in a planned IBM family of dual-core-capable Intel-based server offerings. It is aimed squarely at midtier business logic applications (e.g., those from SAP, Oracle, and Siebel) that use 64-bit memory addressing in conjunction with Intel's front-side bus architecture. In addition to dual-core Intel, IBM has unveiled the eServer 326, which is built with AMD dual-core Opteron 275 processors.
"Dual-core support will allow customers to continue to up the performance ramp with x86 processors without experiencing high heat and high power loads." — Gartner analyst John Enck
Similarly, HP released ProLiant and BladeSystem servers using AMD Opteron dual-core processors. The HP ProLiant DL385 was the industry's first 2U rack-optimized, two-socket AMD Opteron-processor-based server. HP also introduced the dual-core HP ProLiant DL585.
"x86 dual-core Opteron processors can boost certain enterprise application performance by nearly 75 percent," says Cox. "The next few months will see the introduction of dual core to the Itanium family with the 'Montecito processor and x86 dual core moving from the MP segment to the UP and DP markets."
Virtualization Gains Ground
Enck stresses one other server trend: the increased interest and deployment of virtualization software, such as VMware GSX, VMware ESC, and Microsoft Virtual Server.
"Virtualization technology now extends across all operating systems and all processor types," he says. "Virtualization is of keen interest because it allows customers to drive up server efficiency — and in some cases drive consolidation projects.
IBM, for example, has big plans for its IBM Director hardware management platform, with the release of Director 5.1 expected in the next few months. Currently, Director provides a consistent, single point of management and automation for IBM eServers, as well as for virtualization capabilities. With version 5.1, Director will improve the integration between server, storage, and networking management so users can manage the entire infrastructure, not just servers. Users will be able to configure storage and networking while they configure servers, with the same process.
One big challenge to both virtualization and dual core is software licensing. Should vendors support "per socket" or "per core?"
What does this mean in the long run? Lovell says it will ultimately reduce the cost of server computing.
"Customers are regaining control of their server infrastructures through consolidations, virtualizations and more widespread adoption of system management tools," says Lovell. "This is freeing some of the IT budget and system administrator's bandwidth to tackle additional problems and once again use information technology to grow our customer's business rather than simply running it."
HP has virtualization upgrades on the immediate horizon as well. It plans further deployment of Virtual Machine technology. HP Cox says that the growing adoption of dual-core systems must be matched by advanced management capabilities. He believes its Virtual Machine Management (VMM) software will fulfill this role in the near term.
One big challenge to both virtualization and dual core is software licensing. Should vendors support "per socket" or "per core?" Microsoft recently made a stand by offering a "per socket" model, but the debate is far from over.
"Right now most licenses address the number of physical processors on a machine — not the number of sockets or the number of virtual processors," says Enck. "We see software licensing as the biggest potential barrier to widespread usage of dual-core and virtualization technology."