Few things are as integral to the data center as the server. I know, technically it is only one leg of the three-legged data stool, along with storage and networking, but the server is where the actual processing takes place – the brains of the operation, so to say – so it is understandable that data executives are a little apprehensive about the divergent path that server development is taking.
On the one hand, mainframes still run a fair amount of the enterprise load, despite numerous calls for the technology to be put out to pasture. At the same time, blade and microservers are showing that they are equally adept at handling massive data loads, particularly when it comes to the parallel processing of multiple data streams that characterize modern Web-facing applications.
In between, there is a plethora of high-power, medium-power and low-power solutions, not to mention the rise of modular infrastructure that could make the whole idea of disparate systems obsolete. So it is no wonder the data center executive is having trouble seeing the future.
According to the latest research, a booming economy is set to kick server sales into high gear. MarketsandMarkets predicts that the market for standard rack servers is set to nearly double to $40 billion by the end of the decade, although it isn’t entirely clear whether this will benefit traditional vendors like HP and Dell. Much of the activity will come from hyperscale buyers, most of whom prefer commodity machines from ODM manufacturers in Asia upon which they then craft software-driven architectures.
Meanwhile, the rise of enterprise-class ARM and Atom processors is set to make blades, micros and even server-on-chip solutions more attractive. With ARM Ltd. working with companies like STMicroelectronics in support of increasingly smaller footprints, and entrants like Qualcomm preparing to launch enterprise-class devices, the number and variety of low-power servers is set to jump dramatically in the coming year. It is important to note, however, that these micro-architectures are not expected to replace traditional x86 systems entirely, but will likely assume the majority of up-and-coming mobile and social media workloads.
This is a key point because much of the narrative surrounding the ARM focuses on the inevitable “war” that is brewing with Intel as data center architectures shift toward high-density, multi-node designs. But as IT Connection’s Steven Hill points out, it is not at all clear whether this represents an actual shift in enterprise thinking, or merely the trade press’ obsession with hyper-scale, mega-data centers. In fact, the closer you get to the new modular systems, the more they start to look like small blade enclosures, and there is still no indication that they will prove to be as flexible, redundant and economical as actual blades.
Also clouding the issue is the fact that new architectures like microservers are starting from near zero when it comes to market share, so while growth is impressive, their overall impact on the IT industry may still be muted. According to TechNavio, the microserver market is looking at compound annual growth of 37.45 percent from now to 2019, which is why everyone from Dell and HP to IBM and AMD are working up both the servers themselves and the processor architectures to power them. The market will likely become saturated at some point, but it is doubtful this will come at the expense of big iron or top-tier server platforms that cater to database workloads and other traditional enterprise applications.
If there is any word that characterizes the server market in 2015, then, it is diversity. And in that regard, the server is in keeping with the rest of the data industry, which is rapidly transitioning from a one-size-fits-all infrastructure to a dynamic world where the right hardware should be available where and when you need it.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.