IT Innovation

Enterprise Servers: Today and Tomorrow

Workload and new trends drive markets for commodity and high-end servers.

By David A. Kelly

May/June 2012

Oracle Magazine spoke with Rich Partridge, senior server analyst for Ideas International, about the ongoing changes in the server market and the future of enterprise servers.

Oracle Magazine: What’s the state of the enterprise server market today?

Partridge: Organizations have different options depending on the type of workload. Clearly, for routine work, they are looking for servers that will provide performance at an attractive price. That’s where x86 systems have become the dominant force. With x86 systems, you get a lot of performance at a very attractive price. That’s why they’ve become the standard computing solution for doing things that are routine.

But there’s another area of the market where companies are clearly looking for a competitive edge. They have unique requirements and are willing to spend a little bit more to get well-integrated software, servers, and storage. That’s where SPARC processors and servers fit in very nicely.

Oracle Magazine: What’s important to businesses at the higher end of the server market?

Partridge: At the very high end, everyone is looking for a bulletproof, highly reliable, and resilient server. When you think about it, those are the things that had been hallmarks of mainframes for decades. High-end servers need to provide resiliency—that ability to keep on computing even if there is some kind of a hiccup.

Oracle Magazine: What’s the value of an integrated server?

Partridge: With higher-end systems there is a lot of data coming from all of the different business processes, from managing inventories to analyzing data for trends for future products. So in these systems, there is a real need to integrate a lot of different applications—a lot of different usages of the same massive amounts of data—and that requires someone to think about how all of the pieces go together.

At the high end of the server market, many companies recognize the value of an integrated system that can exploit the interaction between different business processes. Oracle has a real advantage there, since it provides both hardware and software. With these types of high-end solutions, Oracle can identify where the bottlenecks are and address them from both a hardware and software perspective. For example, one bottleneck is cryptographic work, and in response, Oracle has determined that it’s really important to put cryptographic processing into its SPARC T-Series processors.

Oracle Magazine: What’s your current impression of the Oracle roadmap for SPARC and Oracle Solaris?

Partridge: There was some skepticism when Oracle first took over Sun, but the success of the first few products to be released after the combination of Oracle and Sun— particularly the SPARC T4 processor—has shown that Oracle is committed. What they’ve done so far with SPARC and Oracle Solaris is pretty impressive.

Of course, Oracle’s ability to deliver and complete the roadmap will be the real test. Oracle clearly wants to be a leading player in the high-end systems using SPARC, and it’s got a map that is aggressive, which is going to be inspiring to its customers.

Oracle Magazine: What do you think the future holds for enterprise servers?

Partridge: You are going to see continued improvement in the price performance and the raw performance of x86-based systems. At the same time, as the cost of computing continues to come down, there will be so many more computing problems that people never thought they could afford to attack before. Some of these problems will involve huge amounts of data to analyze so that customers can identify salient opportunities in ways never before possible. Solving these problems will be the future role of high-end enterprise servers.

The high end will continue to grow because we are not going to be doing only the kind of computing that was done 40 years ago, much of which was based on straightforward automation. Organizations will increasingly be exploring and exploiting trends within the data that were simply not visible without high-end computers.

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