Mobile Devices, Cloud, Applications Drive Server Design Diversity

By Jeff Burt  |  Posted 2013-12-31 Print this article Print

Currently, enterprises can spend as much as 70 percent of their IT dollars on the operation and maintenance of their data centers, according to Jim Ganthier, vice president of marketing, operations and general manager of mainstream business for HP's Servers Group. Converged offerings can reduce those costs, enabling businesses to spend more on innovative products, Ganthier told eWEEK.

HP also is also rolling out converged systems that feed into the growing demand for more workload-optimized systems. At its HP Discovery event in December, the company unveiled a converged system for Vertica aimed at big data environments, and two more for virtualized environments. As businesses tackle new applications such as big data, cloud, analytics and security, the need for systems that are designed specifically for those jobs grow.

That demand is being felt not just at the system level, but also down to the components. Intel is releasing as many as a dozen or more versions of chips that are aimed at different workload needs, whether that is compute, memory, storage or something else. Both Intel and AMD are expanding what they can do to custom make chips to meet end user needs.

The same thing is happening with servers. Cisco in November introduced accelerator packs to make it easier for organizations to run the OpenStack cloud platform on the UCS. Oracle has leveraged the hardware it inherited through its acquisition of Sun Microsystems to create systems optimized to run its database and cloud offerings. Growing numbers of vendors—from Cisco to Intel—are talking about application-centric infrastructures, where applications dictate what the hardware is and does.

AMD's Feldman said companies increasingly are thinking in terms of workloads. Facebook divides its workloads into four categories on which it bases its server purchases.  Some financial institutions have as many as a dozen or more categories, he said.

"You divide the world up into different types of work, then buy the machine that's better situated for running that type of work," Feldman said. "The same logic will lead Facebook, Google [and] Amazon to ask for specialized things from their processors."

Cloud service providers are becoming particularly important players in server design, given their specific needs such as energy efficiency, space and workload optimization and due to the huge numbers of servers they buy every year. For example, over the past few years, Google has been aggressively searching for ways to address power and space issues; to use software-defined networking (SDN) technology; and to leverage such technologies as Hadoop and Apache Cassandra. And what Google and others in the cloud do will impact other businesses.

"Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Amazon, eBay are leading indicators of what will happen with larger enterprises," Feldman said.


In 2011 HP unveiled Project Moonshot, an initiative to create ultra-low power, ultra-dense servers modules for the growing hyperscale data center environments. The Moonshot systems encapsulate many of the changes in server designs being driven by cloud computing, mobility and other trends. The server modules are small, powerful and highly energy efficient, they're optimized for particular workloads and they are not tied to any single architecture—the first ones are based on Intel's low-power Atom platform, but systems running on AMD chips and ARM-based systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) are planned for 2014.

HP officials call Moonshot cartridges "software-defined servers." They are 89 percent more energy efficient than traditional servers, take up 80 percent less space and cost 77 percent less. They share management, power, cooling, networking and storage, which the company says makes their innovation cycle three times faster.


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