IT in the middle

The glut of servers in Middle Eastern data centres could spell problems going forward. Apart from helping to address excessive heat generation and power usage issues, the promise of virtualisation is to cut facility overheads and enable business agility.

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By  Colin Edwards Published  April 2, 2006

|~|HP_Farhad-200.gif|~|Ghoreishi: Dedicated servers are not about individual machines.|~|Imagine a manufacturer investing several million dollars in plant that runs at 25% of capacity most of the time. Heads would roll. But when it comes to IT, the numbers of unproductive servers populating data centres throughout the region are mushrooming and CIOs march on with impunity.

Of course servers are cheap, points out Malcolm Garstang, Unix marketing manager, HP EMEA, who was in Dubai recently for HP's virtualisation conference. But there is a huge added operating cost associated with managing and maintaining a multi-server environment as well as a business cost in terms of poor agility.

One of the reasons CIOs have been getting away with server gluttony, he suggests, is that the ad hoc purchase of servers is made easy because of the company's budgeting and spending processes.

"The business units have the money. It's the people who hold the money who hold the power. They say to IT: 'Here you are, provide me a server'; they've been doing it forever," says Garstang.

Exponential server growth in the data centre is a trend that IDC sees continuing through the rest of the decade. This is at the scale-out and the lower ends of the server market. However, in a more recent server survey, it sees scale-up server virtualisation projects continuing to drive increased customer spending.

"There are a couple of financial dynamics happening," says Garstang. "Yes, prices are dropping like a stone and people are still buying servers. But, whereas in the past the cost of providing that hardware was about two and a half times the cost of people, it's getting close now to a point where the cost of the infrastructure, especially the lower costs infrastructures, is getting close to one-to-one."

Financial managers have finally twigged that when someone buys something and they are using only a fraction of it, there are cost implications. But to date, instead of addressing the problem of server sprawl, they have started to constrain IT spend to help profitability.
Low utilisation is certainly a problem. Gartner says average utilisation is around 15%. According to Garstang, on 32-bit platforms it could be as low as 5%. At the higher end, the mainframe is used about 80% of the time, or all the time in some instances. In a Unix environment it is about 25%.

"But that still says you're buying 75% that's not being used. That's what the financial community has got a hold of. The change in the dynamic is that finance is constraining costs; IT departments are not getting as much money as they had before; business units are saying they still need to buy these new things. IT is caught in the middle," he says.

HP's answer is to go the virtualisation route and it is punting its 64-bit Itanium-based Integrity series and related tools and capacity management software as the solution. For the CIO faced with having to do more with less, it is a no-brainer and an easy case to make to finance.

"When they were told by IT that they can provide them better service for half the price, they took this to heart quickly and took it back through the company and back to the people with the money. Then the IT department went to the business unit and said you can have a dedicated standalone server and it is going to cost you $X or you can have a shared (virtual) server and I'll guarantee you the same performance if not better and it will cost you $X-50," says Garstang.

While some people talk about virtualisation as a product, Farhad Ghoreishi, marketing manager, business critical systems, HP EMEA, is quick to point out that virtualisation is not a product but a combination of tools and capacity management utilities.

||**|||~||~|Garstang: IT can provide better service for half the price.|~|"It's a culmination of tools and products; it's an end; it's a capability that makes you a virtual server user," he says, adding that it is a model that is gaining acceptance in the Middle East faster than in Europe. This is due mainly to the lack of legacy systems in the region, making it easier to migrate to a virtual environment built on powerful blade servers.

IDC's recent server report says that the global server blade market shows strong continued growth, with volumes up 50% year on year.

"Blade shipments increased more than 60% year over year in 2005 as IT managers began to adopt blades as a standard building block in their virtual IT infrastructures," says Kelly
Quinn, senior research analyst, Worldwide Server research, in IDC.

HP says virtualisation has been around for a long time in the mainframe environment, but people have been paying a lot of money for that privilege unnecessarily. HP customers have also been exposed to it for a long time as they have had virtualisation technology on their PA Risc servers.

"We are now migrating that with much broader capabilities and possibilities to the Integrity platform and expanding that to multiple operating systems," says Ghoreishi.
The goal of taking the route to virtualisation - or the journey as he describes it - is to maximise the business's turnover and the different IT investments it has made and to reduce the cost of ownership.

"One of the key challenges of an enterprise is to manage their IT infrastructure. As we move into a consolidated environment we are driving people towards solutions that are based on a single platform, giving them the benefit of having multiple operating systems on the same platform," he says adding that the entire virtual environment can use the same tools for managing the different environments.

HP has proven the viability of virtualisation in its own IT infrastructure and is using its Integrity platform for consolidation at the high end. Illustrating how server glut can happen overnight, Ghoreishi cites the HP and Compaq amalgamation. PeopleSoft HR was run on 41 servers around the world, with each implementation customised to the needs of the region and licensed individually.

The newly-combined company opted for a shared server environment with 10 dedicated servers running in one geographical location. "The cost savings went straight to the bottom line in terms of real estate. Next was licensing. We had all these complex licences. Now we only need one. We now have one global license," he explains.
Other savings came from storage. Instead of having spare storage dotted all over the world, HP has consolidated and reduced its storage from 7Terabytes to 3Terabytes.

"When we say we need a dedicated server we're not talking about individual machines. We're talking about dedication of a resource for an application. You can get virtual partitions in a server. For instance our PeopleSoft deployment needs the equivalent of 10 different servers, but we don't have 10 individual machines. It could be a complete SuperDome that is the equivalent of 10 servers of the size we require," says Ghoreishi.

Such a scenario placates both the business unit's demand for dedicated resources and finance's constraints on IT budgets. Of course the CIO is on a winner as well. Freed from having to balance demands and budgets, he can get on with making sure IT delivers the services necessary to meet the business’ needs.
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