Is Scale Up the New Scale Out?

James_2A shift is
taking place in the server market that is starting to look very much like a
throw back to simpler times. As enterprises gain comfort with x86 server
virtualization, they are starting to push for higher and higher consolidation
ratios, which are driving a return to scale up server purchases. Where a
single-socket server with 8GBs of RAM was the most popular choice a few years
back when scaling out was all the rage, we are starting to see beefier
configurations become the norm to accommodate server
consolidation.

A Forrester survey from just last year showed that while adoption of x86 virtualization was ramping
quickly among enterprise infrastructure & operations (I&O) leaders, the
ratios of servers consolidated were low, averaging 4:1. But this may have been
as much a byproduct of the new technology comfort curve as it was server buying
patterns.

Commonly I&O leaders are pondering moves toward
larger configurations for virtualization hosts – as many CPU sockets and memory
as you can afford seems to be the direction many are taking, based on our
conversations with these executives.

We’re seeing this shift manifest itself in the product
mix from the server vendors as well. HP this week re-entered the eight-socket
x86 server realm with its DL785. This beefy box packs eight quad-core CPUs, up to 256GB of memory and 2.3TBs of
internal storage into a single unit, along with 11 PCI-e slots so plenty of I/O
can be split between the virtual servers it hosts.

IBM had been the solo major market vendor in the
eight-socket and above x86 space recently, which had been mostly a niche category for hosting the very
largest Windows- or Linux-based databases, SAP installations and other large
enterprise application deployments. The majority of the servers in this
category, such as the Unisys ES7000-class servers that scale up to and beyond 32 Intel processors are still best suited to
non-virtualization workloads as their high cost (due to very robust HA
technologies you probably won’t need for virtual workloads that have software HA
services of their own) erode the consolidation-via-virtualization financial
model. This new HP system and its IBM 8-socket competitor, stay within the cost
points of commodity-class servers and thus will hit a new sweet spot for
virtualization.

You’ll still want to deploy in a n+n fashion to avoid
hardware failures taking down 10-20 virtual servers at a time, but the overall
power, space and operational savings these new servers deliver, will likely
justify the investment. 

By James Staten

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