Virtualization Causes and Server Effects

Michael Vizard

There are any number of reasons why an IT organization might invest in a new server. In an up economy, the primary reason is usually increased application workloads. In a down economy, it's usually because of a desire to cut costs by consolidating servers.

The advent of virtualization has allowed IT organizations to consolidate servers with a vengeance. This trend significantly hurt server sales because the primary mantra for most IT organizations has been to get more value out of their existing investments. That translates into aggressively deploying virtual machine software to extend the life of existing servers.

But a funny thing happens as more virtual machines get deployed on existing servers. IT organizations quickly discover that virtual machine software is a hog when it comes to memory. That means that the amount of server consolidation being accomplished is limited to about four to six physical servers for every one physical loaded up with virtual machine software. But if an IT organization opts to buy a new server loaded with next generation Xeon processors from Intel or PowerPC processors from IBM, the memory bottleneck is sharply reduced. As a result, some IT organizations running the latest version of VMware vSphere 4 on next generation processors are reporting consolidation rates as high as 30 to one.

The other virtualization factor that is at play here is that most of the servers that have been consolidated are file and Web servers. The next generation of servers that will be consolidate are systems running Microsoft Exchange, Oracle and SAP applications. These applications are both memory and I/O intensive. So as IT organizations move to consolidate them, in all likelihood they will need a new high end server to support them.

It's possible that the latest server market share numbers signal the beginning of a recovery. But it's far more like that they are symptomatic of a massive wave of server consolidation that is causing IT organizations to slowly start to upgrade some of their server infrastructure as part of an overall cost reduction program enabled by virtualization.

So the question is are you buying new servers because the economy improving, or has the ongoing recession coupled with virtualization created a compelling business case for new servers that ultimately lower the total cost of computing without compromising application performance?

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