Tony Lock, The Register
Reg Barometer This is one of a series of articles which draws on online research conducted in partnership with The Register in October 2008. Some 1,125 people, from organisations large and small based in the UK, United States and many other countries took the time to let us know how IT systems are being used in their businesses. Thanks to all of you who took part.
Here we summarise developments associated with server systems, their associated operating systems and the continuing adoption of server virtualisation solutions.
Are servers still being acquired?
The chart below highlights that (as of October 2008) the use and deployment of server platforms account for significant project initiatives in a large number of organisations. The figure specifically identifies “General infrastructure optimisation” to be an area where effort continues to be expended, with “server virtualisation” following closely behind. Both of these areas have a physical server impact.
Figure 1: A number of current initiatives are likely to have an impact on server usage
Also noteworthy: “Virtualisation – Desktop” is creeping into the picture, with somewhere north of ten per cent of respondents reporting initiatives underway as of last October. Over one in five expect to have something happening by the end of April this year. A first glance might not directly associate such work with any server impact, but a closer study clearly reveals that virtualisation of desktop workloads, irrespective of the solution set deployed, requires new services to be hosted in the back end server infrastructure.
It should be recognised that while there are differences in absolute numbers for large enterprises, mid-sized organisations and small businesses, the scales are not that dissimilar. In essence a lot of work is being undertaken on server systems in every size of business and in all sectors.
So, who are the server winners and losers? First, we look at the position of Industry standard servers as perceived in businesses today.
Industry Standard Servers
The slides below speak from themselves at a high level – abundantly clear in the area of platform selection is that so called “Industry Standard Servers”, i.e. those based around x86 chipsets from Intel and AMD – command the highest levels of commitment, according to respondents. A little digging makes for some interesting discussion as we consider differences of scale and which platforms are beginning to be perceived more as “legacy”.
In particular it is noticeable that the Blade and Rack versions of x86 servers are considered by nearly four out of five survey respondents as either being platforms for committed use or ones that are becoming important. Very few seeing them as legacy systems. Indeed, only “commodity” x86 systems have more than 20 per cent recognition among large enterprise respondents as being legacy x86 platforms.
Looking across organisations of different sizes, there are very few differences of perception for the x86 platform from large enterprise down to SMBs.
Figure 2: Significant investment continues to be made in industry standard servers
It is equally clear that industry standard x86 servers are well established as a major platform for server workloads, a situation that is only likely to be strengthened by the growing adoption of virtualisation solutions to delivery better server resource utilisation, and hence cost benefits, in mainstream IT service delivery. We shall now take a look at UNIX servers, the traditional workhorses of enterprise application delivery.
Traditional Unix platforms
A quick glance at the survey results makes for interesting reading when we consider the platforms that have traditionally accounted for a significant proportion of the Unix market. The Sun Sparc servers, IBM System p and HP 9000 family of machines all, at first sight, appear to be well regarded as platforms suitable for continued committed use. It should be noted that among respondents from large corporate businesses both the Sun series and HP 9000 offerings have significant numbers of respondents who see them as mostly “legacy use” systems.
When looking at the results from mid-market sized organisations the proportion of those perceiving Sun Sparc systems and HP 9000s as legacy platforms becomes even higher, in the case of Sun almost reaching a level of one to one. This perhaps highlights that Unix servers today face a challenge to define just how they fit into the grand scheme of enterprise Server utilisation and architectures. However, looking at the relative standings of the operating systems deployed on server systems does not quite back this idea up as, overall, Unix is still regarded by a majority of those responding an OS with a future.
This is not quite the case in SMBs, where the traditional UNIX platforms are seen to be more of a legacy platform. It should be mentioned that across organisations of all sizes Linux, an OS that can often run on the traditional Unix server hardware, enjoys a much rosier outlook with few people yet regarding it as “legacy”.
The survey results indicate that in some organisations traditional Unix platforms are today faced with a challenge to identify the role they hold going forward. It will be interesting to see how the usage of Linux based systems will modify this going forward, as other research shows that Linux has yet to be widely deployed in a majority of organisations.
Beyond x86 servers and the traditional Unix platforms there are a number of other mid-range servers that enjoy fairly widespread deployment in modern enterprises.
There are some interesting results to be found when looking at the HP Vax and Non-stop systems and the IBM System i and System z platforms. In respondents from large organisations the HP Vax is clearly perceived to be a legacy platform. Amongst mid-market and SMB respondents the perception is not so heavily weighted towards legacy but it is, on balance, there to be seen. The perception of HP Non-stop in large enterprise is only slightly more positive, whilst the platform appears to have little recognition in small and mid-size organisations.
Figure 3: Meanwhile, more traditional UNIX and other platforms are moving into the ‘legacy’ camp
When it comes to the IBM system i, perhaps still better known by its former name AS400, in large enterprises the server still possesses more of a perception as being a platform of committed use rather than a legacy platform. The most concern comes from the relatively small number of respondents who see the System i as becoming important to them now. This reflects poorly on IBM’s attempts to reach new users. A more troubling note might be interpreted from the fact that despite its reputation as being a system very suitable for use in small and mid-size organisations the size of the respondent base is low.
Among large enterprises the System z, still known (despite significant marketing efforts over the years) as the Mainframe, enjoys a positive balance as a platform for committed continued use versus being seen as a legacy server. It also enjoys a solid positive perception in the mid-tier, albeit at a lower level of recognition.
server operating zystems
We now take a look at the situation regarding server operating systems and their perceived position in the server infrastructure.
This only leaves consideration of the Windows range of server operating systems and the Linux platforms to complete the rundown of server attitudes. I suspect that Microsoft’s server executives will be feeling quite happy that the returns that indicate that server operating systems that predate Windows Server 2003 are now pretty much consigned to the dustbin of history, with Server 2003 being seen as the work horse going forward.
To buff the rosy scenario even more, it is also clear that the latest release of the company’s server OS, Windows Server 2008, is already making headway in the market’s perceptions of its viability as a platform going forward, results that are reflected across all sizes of organisation.
Figure 4: Windows Server, Linux and Traditional UNIX each have a place in operating system terms
Despite its relatively low penetration in most organisations, the results here show that Linux is widely perceived to be a platform of importance going forward. Other research we have carried out shows that Linux skills are not widespread outside large enterprise. The relatively strong perception that Linux is either a major platform going forward or is now becoming important may, at least to some degree, reflect the skills and interests among the survey base. But overall figures do show that Linux is now certainly a mainstream server offering, a fact further strengthened by the fact that perceptions vary little by size of organisation.
As for traditional Unix, the results shown below for corporate customers is the “best case” scenario, as the returns from respondents in mid-size and small companies place the platform firmly in a 50:50 split between ‘continued committed use’ and the ‘legacy’ camps. The perception of IBM’s i5OS and HP’s VMS fare even less well in the minds of IT professionals. As the results demonstrate, these operating systems are seen as yesterday’s platforms by many. Going forward IBM and HP will have a job to communicate the value of such ‘specialist’ operating systems.
The results of the survey must be interpreted with some care as the figures relate to how server platforms and operating systems are perceived, rather than perhaps how such platforms are actually being deployed in anger.
What is clear is that Linux, modern Windows server operating systems and, most especially, server virtualization are all seen to be involved in platforms for the future. Against this background, the traditional Unix platforms facie challenges to ensure that their potential usefulness going forward are well understood by the wider IT community.