HP is holding a global virtual event beginning April 27, 2010 that will introduce their vision and major announcements regarding their products and solutions for the next era of mission-critical computing. The event will feature the announcement overview, demos, papers, info from the live event in Germany and more. Participants will also have the opportunity to share reactions to the announcement and ask questions through live expert chat sessions.
HP promises you can learn how you can:
• Scale service-level agreements dynamically to meet business needs
• Capture untapped resources and react faster to new opportunities
• Reduce complexity
• Lay the foundation for a converged infrastructure to accelerate business outcomes
Registration is available at: www.hp.com/go/witness
You can also follow updates from the event on twitter with @HPIntegrity #HPIntegrity
I read a clip from IDC guy Dan Harrington explaining why he thought the economic downturn crimped x86 server deployments more than Unix server deployments. "It's easier to freeze purchases on x86 , which are a commodity at this point," he said.
Easier to delay x86 deployment? Sounds right. But x86 server = commodity? Hardly.
Clustering was supposed to commoditize x86 servers. Then it was utility computing. Then virtualization. Then the cloud. Ten years ago, I bought into the Commodity Theory. Whitebox servers would soon be king of the data center. x86 is x86, right? Everyone would soon be slapping Tyan and Asus motherboards into off-the-shelf ATX chassis.
But that's not what happened. In fact, the percentage of people using whitebox servers has actually dropped. A lot. IDC still predicts more whiteboxes, but their latest full-year estimates (2008) say that whiteboxes make up about 10% of servers deployed today -- down from about 14% five years ago, and something like half of what it was a decade ago. Server admins have actually been gravitating away from them and toward "fancy" servers from HP, IBM, and Dell.
Why? Well, one reason is that the price tags on an entry-level HP or Dell x86 servers have dropped a lot, to the point that assembling your own servers won't save you money. But lowered cost != commodity.
Clustering, virtualization, and cloud computing actually do better when run on servers that have a few decidedly non-whitebox-style features:
- OS and ISV certifications
- Plug-ins and APIs for mainstream management tools
- Big, knowledgeable user communities who've developed best-practices
- Around-the-globe support, and "one throat to choke" when issues arise.
- Automated deployment tools, power capping, and other things that lower operations costs (which can dwarf acquisition costs).
There does seem to be a growing interest in bare-bones servers. Stuff like the ProLiant SL series and IBM's iDataPlex exemplify this trend. But these aren't general-purpose servers, and they come with some of those key non-commodity features.
On Wednesday, Soni Jiandani announced an expansion of Cisco’s UCS family, adding rack servers to their hardware roadmap.
I’m really scratching my head at this move. Soni says that her goal with these products – 1U and 2U servers each with two Intel Xeon processors – will be to broaden the reach of UCS beyond environments that could adopt Cisco’s blade hardware. That sounds reasonable – it’s like posting your used car on Craigslist, even though you’ve already pasted a “For Sale” sign the window; you’ll reach more potential customers if you do both.
But servers aren’t stand-alone products, and hanging a “For Sale” sign on a pizza box server won’t solve any problems. A server has to have a big ecosystem of software, services, and compatible solutions around it. In fact, I’ve said before that nobody wants to buy a server at all ; the only reason they acquire them is because it’s a necessary component to get their email system or online trading system working. Over the years, HP has built up hundreds of software partners and certifies thousands of solutions on its servers. And that’s why ProLiant servers have been the most popular server line for over ten years. I can’t see Cisco developing that kind of solution expertise overnight. Plus, since these servers aren't slated for release for another 6 months, it sets Cisco even further back in developing that ecosystem.
Another thing Cisco’s announced this week touched on partners and training. John Growdon revealed plans for two new Cisco certifications around IT architecture design: “Data Center Architect” and “Data Center Engineer”. Per John, these certs for individuals will help current Cisco-certified network fabric experts expand their skillset, so they can help end-users with the servers and other pieces from UCS.
(The Register quotes John as acknowledging that 70% of those experts are already selling and deploying servers today. Hopefully these new certs won’t require these DCNIs to go back and rip out every server they’ve installed in the past!)
Kidding aside -- I agree with John completely that the people designing any part of your data center – whether it’s the servers, networks, or CRAC units – should be highly trained. I think you also want them to have lots of experience, too. HP and HP partners have been designing data centers and IT architectures for decades. We’ve racked up millions of hours in testing and operations experience. That’s why people trust HP when it comes to the data center. Cisco has years of experience in the networking realm, and that’s probably why they have one of the industry’s most respected networking certification programs. But their lack of experience on the server side makes me question how much value a Cisco certification in servers would have.
So, that’s why I’m scratching my head. Cisco has lots of smart people -- but I can't understand these new UCS announcements.