Next year will be a busy one in the server industry with a host of new products and innovations, thanks in large part to the increasing importance of multicore computing and virtualization technology. However, it looks like 2007 will prove lackluster in the PC space, as enterprise users and consumers decide whether to immediately adopt Microsofts Vista Windows operating system.
Industry analysts agreed that the server market is well-poised to take advantage of innovations in both multicore processing and virtualization.
On Nov. 14, Intel rolled out its quad-core processor, which has found early adopters in Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM. Not to be outdone, Intels rival, Advanced Micro Devices, demonstrated it own quad-core processor on Nov. 30, and will make it available by the middle of 2007.
While multicore technology in the x86 space is getting the bulk of the headlines, Sun Microsystems, which last year rolled out its RISC-based eight-core UltraSPARC T1 "Niagara" chip, is expected to launch Niagara 2 in 2007, which will still have eight cores, but with each core being able to process eight instruction threads rather than the four threads per core in the T1 chip. IBM also is expected to roll out its Power 6 processor in the middle of 2007.
While the benefits for the server market are obvious in terms of processing power and ability to perform more functions, such as virtualization, it does seem that PCs will not be able to take advantage of these types of multicore innovations for some time.
Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata in Nashua, N.H., told eWEEK that the problem is there have been few application developed to work with quad-core processors.
"I dont see client devices adding more cores, because much of the software out there is not multithreaded," Haff said.
However, the fact that Intel and AMD are locked into a competitive battle for the hearts and minds of OEMs will mean lower prices and better bargains for consumers in 2007, Haff said.
Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Research in Hayward, Calif., went a step further and said PCs are still struggling to realize the full processing potential of dual-core chips. (Many OEMs, however, are at least urging enterprise customers to use dual-core to optimize Vistas features.)
"You have a huge amount of processing power but people are still using the same old applications," King said. "Applications are what drives the uptake and gets people involved enough that they want to buy new machines. The application stream has been pretty flat."
King, Haff and other analysts were much more bullish on virtualization – the ability to run multiple applications and operating systems on a single server or PC.
From mainframes to Unix to x86 servers, virtualization has become an increasingly go-to technology for the data center, and this will continue throughout 2007, King said.
"It has become a very proletarian piece of technology," King said. He added that competition will also help the market, with smaller companies such Virtual Iron taking on bigger players such as VMware and Microsoft.
There also appears to be a push among server makers to support the open-source virtualization hypervisor Xen, which is expected to be included in the major Linux distributions. Other virtualization vendors, such as Virtual Iron, are basing their products on Xen.
Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates in Concord, Mass., believes that PC makers will also start adopting more and more virtualization technology.
The adoption of virtualization in the PC realm, especially with desktops, will help with security and gives companies the ability to create multiple operating system environments on a single machine, Kay said.
Gartner analyst Leslie Fiering also sees a year where enterprises will start taking more advantage of virtualization innovation and add these new applications to PCs.
"Its becoming more important as a way to provide a protective footprint," Fiering said. "It is becoming more popular for companies to give contract employees PCs that have access to the network through virtual machines. We think this will also start to happen with the notebooks that are given to full-time employees. We feel that that there are a number of things that can be done to improve overall security and make them more widely deployed."
As for the launch of Vista – the business version rolled out on Nov. 30 and Microsoft will make the commercial version available on Jan. 30 – most analysts agree that the the new OS, along with Office 2007 and Exchange Server 2007, will not have an immediate affect on the PC market, especially with the buying habits of enterprise customers.
Kay said it might help consumer sales toward the end of 2007, while Fiering said that a total refresh in the PC market wont happen for at least another 18 months as enterprises contemplate when to adopt Vista.
Then there is also Longhorn, the code name for Microsofts server OS. King believes that might start to become a hot topic much later in the year as the release date, which has not been firmly set, comes closer.
"It should be interesting to see how some customers respond to the beta version and what changes Microsoft makes along the way," King said.