Apps to rev server market engine

If hardware is becoming a commodity, then it’s the emerging application environments that are going to drive investments in server technology. At times application-specific, demand is also a function of conceptual, business-based understandings of how technology can enhance productivity and performance.

Steve Shaw, Business Development Manager with the Business Critical Systems (BCS) Group of HP Canada, still sees demand coming from the traditional ERP and CRM space, as well as from penetration beyond the large enterprise market.

“SAP and Oracle map well into HP’s server business, and there is a trend toward updating ERP modules in the mid-market space.”

Much of this is being driven by application rationalization as a result of mergers and acquisitions. “Data consolidation is still on the forefront of what most IT executives and architects are planning for their companies,” said Shaw. “They’re being measured on how they drive operations’ efficiency and cost.”

HP itself is a fine example: Within a few years the company will consolidate its 84 data centres down to 6.

Chris Pratt, an operations sales executive in the IBM Systems and Technology Group, points out that the days of buying technology for its own sake are over: “Clearly, people are now buying technology that they require versus what they want,” he said, adding that they need additional capabilities because they are focusing on market differentiators, with business requirements pulling in the appropriate technologies.

And Rob Adley, vice-president systems practice for Sun Microsystems of Canada Inc., sees the present server market within two broad categories. The first comes off of ISVs dictating demand. The other side is Web 2.0 as exemplified by the likes of YouTube and Facebook. These represent very non-prescriptive, yet significant, infrastructure requirements.

This is a function of what Sun calls the “participation age”, wherein more and more devices are pulling data back into the network. This can result in a red shift, where the technological requirements brought on by the rapid growth in demand outstrip what Moore’s Law can handle.

That said, HP’s Shaw made it clear that the modernization of standard applications is a definite driver, with business intelligence an integral component. “People want to take information from their CRM and ERP applications and conduct analytics. They have some pretty big numbers to crunch.”

As a result, infrastructure is being evaluated, and with SOA entrenched in software, the underpinnings are there for more sophisticated application environments.

IBM’s Pratt echoes these sentiments, pointing out that technology initiatives are often infrastructure-based. “Businesses are making decisions around making the platform more stable and resilient. Otherwise, they can’t deliver on the applications, and if they can’t do that they put their business at risk.”

One of the problems inherent in the fast pace of change is that people are going for piecemeal solutions. SOA should help here, allowing for defined interfaces that enable business compliance. Virtualization and networked storage — both hot areas in IT World Canada’s recent Server Equipment Survey of purchasing intentions — will help with optimization. Otherwise, if organizations simply add systems at the pace of change the infrastructure will fall out of compliance and crumble.

For Pratt, RFID is a classic example. “Suddenly, it’s no longer their choice,” he said. “It’s being mandated.” Fortunately, server technologies that were the province of only the largest organizations are now within reach for the mid- and even SMB market. The only remaining question is whether or not they can manage these systems, and here’s where architectural standards provide a necessary safeguard. This then helps smaller firms to compete with the big guys, because now they can satisfy the most stringent auditing requirements.

IBM’s Pratt further argues that decisions based on technological units of measure are old hat. According to Pratt, a more modern multi-faceted approach would be to use business units of measure. Businesses understand the cost per unit of real work, and are willing then to allow for technological criteria such as availability.

Fewer people may be blinded by flashing lights; nonetheless, environmental concerns are big news these days. Although power usage did not register as a significant purchasing criterion on the IT World Canada survey, Pratt claims he “hasn’t had a single conversation where environmental concerns around power cooling and infrastructure have not been in the top three.” Adley, who is quick to point out that Sun has a vice-president of eco-responsibility and that its Cool Thread technology is being outfitted in its data centres, confirms this sentiment. And the concern isn’t only coming from vendors: Gartner has claimed that by 2015 the energy costs of running a server will be greater than the costs of acquiring it.

In fact, environmental concerns may be masking a business issue. IT World Canada’s survey had price as the number one purchasing priority, and virtualization as a top new area for technology adoption. Both findings may be partial covers for concerns about rising utility costs.

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