Server Kings: IBM, Dell, HP...and Cisco?

Cisco this week officially entered the server market with a line of blade systems that's 100 percent built for virtualization. In a Dell-like move, Cisco is supporting third-party hypervisors, particularly ESX and Hyper-V. It's also pushing network virtualization and storage management -- so in essence, the whole kit and caboodle is virtual from the get-go.

I have a theory. The network hardware market is drying up faster than spilled beer in Key West. And Cisco already owns nearly everything that Juniper hasn't managed to snag. A lot of this has to do with the nature of networks and network gear. While it only takes a Microsoft OS and an app or two to max out a PC, it takes a lot of data to saturate a network connection. Even most 100-bit/sec Ethernet connections are largely untaxed, and now we have 1-gig and 10-gig wares to choose from. And since a lot routers and switches come with an abundance of ports, it takes a while to use up all of them.

The server market is new territory, Cisco has the sales force and brand, and it can weave a compelling virtualization story. This could be huge. Would you buy a server from Cisco? Send yeas and nays to dbarney@redmondmag.com.

Stimulating Microsoft
I remember going to Microsoft when it only had two buildings -- one for apps and another for MS-DOS -- with a cafeteria in between. Now the Microsoft campus makes Harvard look puny. All these workers drove up house prices and drove up traffic.

The Obama administration feels the Microsoft employees' pain and plans to help fund an overpass to make it easier to get from one side of campus to the other. Hey, Obama! My driveway needs paving. Can you help a fella out?

What would you spend the stimulus money on? Advice (but no cash or checks) can be forwarded to dbarney@redmondmag.com.

IBM To Buy the Sun?
The Wall Street Journal reports that IBM is negotiating to buy Sun Microsystems for more than $6 billion (one-thirtieth of what we've given to AIG).

This could be a large and possibly problematic deal. Already, IBM has a range of platforms, PC servers, System x mainframes, PowerPC servers, and the System i and System x. Even Houdini couldn't untangle this knot of products. Sun has a similar issue. It has standard PC servers, as well as RISC machines -- and Solaris runs on both. The two also have an array of virtualization, management, and storage tools.

There's tremendous value in Sun, a company that never stops innovating, but there's also colossal overlap and confusion -- not to mention the likelihood of layoffs. Is this a good idea, or will IBM become a hodgepodge of incompatible and competing products? Give us your best M&A advice at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

Your Turn: IT Gone Good
Two-and-a-half years ago, I wrote a story about IT abusing its power -- blackmailing executives, spying, stealing and sexually harassing.

I'd love to do the opposite, to show where IT uses its power for good. Do you volunteer and use your skills for good? Does your organization itself do good and have IT systems to support those efforts? If so, tell me your tale at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

Your Turn: Green IT
Do you care about green technology? Is there pressure to save energy? Have you pushed any green initiatives, such as virtualization? Are there ways to use Microsoft software more efficiently and has Microsoft told you about them?

Help me spread the green word by writing dbarney@redmondmag.com.

Mailbag: Why Virtualize
After a Forrester study revealed that virtualization is popping up all over the place (as Jordan says, "duh"), a couple of readers shared how they're contributing to the spread:

I have decided that I need to work for Forrester or Gartner. I've never seen another industry that brings in billions in revenue to state the obvious six months to a year after everbody else already knew it. Of course, people are using virtualization. Of course, it's widespread. Of course, it saves lots of money. Duh?

On a serious note, we are about to utilize a Hyper-V failover cluster to run several of our core services such as DHCP, some DCs and DNS servers, WINS and WSUS. With the way that Datacenter 2008 offers unlimited virtualiztion licensing for the OS, it is a no-brainer. Especially with tight budgets.

-Jordan

We have zero interest in the energy aspect of virtualization. We are, however, going to embrace the new virtualization models to help minimize downtime in case we have failure of our various server computers. We are very attracted to the resilience these new virtual environments can offer.

We recently purchased two low-end Dell PowerEdge T300 servers to retire some eight-year-old servers. Once we are done with the upgrade, we will have four main servers online, each running some version of Windows Server. On our two new servers, we are going to run the free VMware ESXi hypervisor. Initially, each machine will have just one live virtual machine, an instance of Windows Server 2008 Enterprise. We plan to create additional virtual machines for each of our four main servers and keep shutdown available -- that way, if any of our servers physically fail, we can fairly quickly roll over to a cold VMware image, do a quick restore of the most recent backup data for that server, and we are good to go. We don't require 100 percent uptime, but we are interested in minimizing the downtime in the case of a major server failure.

With the current economy, these two servers will likely have to last me quite awhile. I like the versatility a virtual environment gives me to be able to create a new server if I really need to, or even just take a snapshot to test a routine software upgrade. As I get more comfortable with the performance of scaling up the number of virtual machines running on a single box, we may consolidate our servers some, but for now that is not the goal. I would imagine that many folks are in the same boat as myself -- using these new virtual environments to reduce downtime and just enhance our options in a small IT environment.
-Dennis

What do you think? Share your thoughts below or send an e-mail to dbarney@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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