Server workloads determine purchases

Vendors should keep in mind that customers want to choose server solutions based on workload, according to a recent IDC Canada Ltd. study.

The report, titled IDC Canada’s Customer Directions and Buying Behaviour: Server Workloads, found that most server purchasing decisions are based on how the server will be deployed and what the optimal operating system is for that application. IDC surveyed 240 Canadian users. The intent of the report, according to Alan Freedman, research manager at Toronto-based IDC Canada, is to help server vendors serve their clients’ needs with knowledge of intended workloads.

“So when customers know in advance what the workload is going to be for the particular server they’re purchasing, they can get a tailor-made solution,” he said. “That would mainly include the size of the server and the operating system. Then they can build from there.”

For example, he found that if customers are going to be running a lot of decision-support applications, such as data warehousing or data analysis, they won’t typically choose Microsoft’s Windows NT.

“That’s where I think NT would like to be, but they’re just not there yet,” Freedman said.

The Corporation of Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, for instance, has just installed a new group of NT servers. It will be using NT for its Internet, file and print, fax and accounting system servers, but not decision support. However, since the company had no need for data warehousing on its network, NT’s capabilities in that area were of no concern, according to Andrew Papadopoulos, owner of Toronto-based Legend Corp., the system provider for Roy Thomson Hall.

IDC’s Freedman said the most surprising find of the survey, to him, was that business processing (batch, OLTP) provides the largest workload opportunity for server vendors.

“If I think about it, it makes sense, but when I first took a look at the list, I wouldn’t have thought that business processing would have been far and away the biggest workload,” he said.

Infrastructure and decision support were the next largest workload opportunities.

Decision support was shown to be the fastest growing workload.

“That’s not so surprising. It generally confirms what everyone’s been saying about data warehousing in that more and more end users are becoming aware of the fact that there are programs out there for basically whatever sized company you run — that you can effectively store and retrieve data on your customers,” he said.

The study also found that in many cases, operating systems are not really in competition with one another.

“A lot of them work in tandem,” Freedman said. “So you might be running OS/390 to do your batch or OLTP and all the heavy-duty background tasks, yet you could still have NT running all your foreground tasks, like your desktop publishing or running your office applications.”

Roy Thomson Hall is an example of this type of server-purchasing behaviour. It now has a combination of Unix and NT servers.

“Our ticketing system is Unix-based,” said Darrell Steele, assistant to the vice-president of the corporation. “That’s dictated by the application — ticketing is a fairly unique sort of thing, there aren’t that many ticketing programs out there. Our choice for ticketing software only runs on Unix.”

IDC broke up the servers into three segments: anything under $100,000 is an entry server, $100,000 to $1 million is a midrange server and more than $1 million is a high-end server.

“In looking at it by server segment, when you’re looking at high-end servers, just about three-quarters are being used for business processing, and that’s exactly what we would have expected,” he said. “If you look at entry servers, the workload is a more even distribution, but the number one workload there is infrastructure — things like file and print sharing and network servers.”

He also added that when it comes to technical workload, that area is basically dominated by Unix.

“In all the technical shops, not only the workstations but the servers in behind the workstations are running Unix,” he said. “And even though NT workstations are making quite a dent in that market, we still feel a lot of that high-powered technical computing is going to remain on Unix. That won’t surprise anybody.”

IDC’s Freedman said he hopes vendors will learn from this study to tailor their offerings based on predicted workloads, rather than just trying to sell the product of the day.

“End users are looking for something that’s not only reliable, but that’s quick to implement. So the more appropriate the server solution, the quicker it’s going to be to implement,” he said.

Legend’s Papadopoulos agreed.

“A vendor should find out what [customers] want to achieve at the end of the day,” he said. “Their requirements will dictate the application, which then dictates the hardware, which then dictates operating systems.”