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Tue 1 May 2007 11:07 AM

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ConSERVERative spending

Despite a global trend which is seeing enterprises move off their Unix-based servers, developing regions are balancing out the market with their Unix spends. Colin Edwards asks why there is such a conservative approach.

On a world-wide basis Unix is passed its sell-by date. What has been the standard operating system for large servers for the last two decades, is coming under pressure in the US and Europe to curl up and die.

"But when you look at the more developing regions, where they are still building out infrastructure, it is very relevant in areas such as telcos and government. It is still very relevant here and these are growth areas. They are looking for big iron solutions rather that growing with an Intel-based or alternative platforms," says Jon Hardcastle, a Gartner analyst specialising in server research.

"It is really quite conservative here," says Hardcastle who was visiting server vendors in Dubai recently.

"You tend to think that new development areas, such as this region, are open to new technologies, but at the same time there is very often less of a skills base sometimes, and you tend to get more conservative buying patterns," he says.

According to Hardcastle, the Unix market has been doing relatively well since a slump in 2002.

"It has been pretty stable for the last four to five years. The weakness in the U S and Western Europe Unix markets has been balanced out by the Middle East, African and Asian/ Pacific markets which have been quite strong," he says.

"Long term, however, if people in emerging regions are going to buy proven solutions (ie Unix) and at the same time people in developed regions are moving to different platforms, they aren't going to get the best solutions."

In line with the region's Unix trend, Sun Microsystems' sales have been particularly strong in the Middle East, according to Hardcastle commenting on latest sales figures released by Gartner for servers.

"Sun is improving. Sun has been very strong in MEA. They have sorted through some of their product line they have a more competitive product line and it certainly looks better for them going forward."

Despite Sun's performance globally and regionally, the server market as a whole is static and according to Gartner's latest server report revenues at leading vendors such as HP and Fujitsu Siemens are dropping. Even so, one should not read too much into this because unit sales are rising.

"We had a slower Q4. It slowed down towards the end of the year, which we were expecting. The market has been strong for a couple of years now. But you can't expect it to grow year on year. We have been expecting it to slow down somewhat.

"We have been seeing a steady rise of virtualisation (a solution that allows users to maximise server utilisation by enabling more than one application and operating system to be run on a single x86 server rather than running different applications on several servers) It is bound to have a dampening effect on the volumes of servers sold."

Hardcastle believes server sales will continue their upward trend once people have deployed virtualisation where possible, though says that step adjustment could take a few years to work through. Currently, though, the trend is server consolidation as it has been found that server utilisation is as low as 8%.

Although the cost of hardware has fallen, the cost of managing devices continues be a huge problem. Virtualisation, being flexible and in an automated environmet can help.

The ease with which servers can be deployed in a virtual environment is a big selling point he says. "If you are running one application per box and you want to run a test system, you have to get another system; you have to wait for it to be delivered; then you have to put it somewhere; then you have to deploy it. All this takes a while then when you've done the testing your left with a box. Whereas with virtualisation you can bring up a new image it takes half an hour to set up a test system.

"Virtualisation will continue, but once you have worked through virtualisation and virtualised everything that can be virtualised, then you are back to a steady ramp up in server numbers," he says.

With HP ditching its PA Risc, Unix based high end machines, expect new chips like Intel Itanium-based servers to be part of the ramp up. Although sales of the 64-bit processor are now meeting sales expectations, those sales were never meant to be high.

Virtualisation will continue, but once you have virtualised everything, you are back to a steady ramp up in server numbers.

"It never was a volume play. The whole idea that because it was from Intel it must be a volume server and was therefore volume economics never applied. No, it is meeting expectations now. It is mostly as a PA Risc replacement. We're seeing some Linux and Windows, but Microsoft just prefers volumes.

"Itanium is by no means dead. Its strong base is PA replacement, but it is not going to become the de facto standard that was forecast 10 years ago, but it is getting implemented by virtue of virtualisation.

Although in the cash-rich countries of the Middle East, the cost savings that virtualisation offers through maximising server performance might not be thought to have as much relevance, Hardcastle thinks this is not the case. Or at least, this is something soon to change. While many users in the region can afford excess servers, those that have looked at virtualisation like the flexibility benefit it provides.

It is also costing less to deploy since VMWare has come under serious competition from the likes of Microsoft and Xen. Hardcastle says the price of VMWare has now plummeted. There were also heat and power generation issues to consider.

"The set up costs are much lower too. And when you look at the cost benefit and the compromises you have to make, it is a relatively low cost option for maximising the server resources you have."

He does not see the hosted virtualisation model catching on, for general IT, believing that will remain in the developers' domain.

"People do like to own their own infrastructure. It is more a developers' solution. As long as it is used by developers it will never be a huge part of the market," he says.

But he warns that the benefits that can be derived from virtualisation - agility and resource maximisation - can be negated if virtualisation is not done properly.

While virtualisation offers organisations the opportunity to reduce costs and increase agility, if this is done without implementing best practices for security, virtualisation may actually increase costs and reduce agility - according to Gartner in one of its presentations on virtualisation and security.

Because of the rush to adopt virtualisation for server consolidation efforts, many security issues are overlooked, it says. Best practices aren't applied, or in some cases, the tools and technologies for addressing some of the security issues with virtualisation are immature or nonexistent, it warns. As a result, through 2009, 60% of production VMs will be less secure than their physical counterparts it says.

Gartner analysts say the process of securing VMs must start before the VMs are deployed, and ideally, before vendors and products are selected, so that security and securability can be factored into the evaluation and selection process.

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