Physical Servers Brace for Virtual Load

RAM and CPU are set to burgeon in data center servers of the near future.

First-generation data center x86 server virtualization took existing hardware and made it more efficient. Organizations that take the next step-from consolidation to virtual operations-will combine much bigger virtual machines on increasingly beefy physical host systems.

How big? At the VMworld 2011 conference in the late summer, VMware ushered in the era of the giant virtual machine that can be configured with up to 32 virtual CPU cores and 1TB of RAM. As revealed Sept. 14 at the Microsoft BUILD conference, the Windows Server 8 is said to be able to create virtual machines that also provide up to 32 virtual CPU cores and up to 512GB of RAM. And Microsoft's Hyper-V, as implemented in Windows Server 8, showed that the newly released developer preview is designed for physical systems that are equipped with up to 160 logical processors and up to 2TB of physical RAM.

While data center virtual computing is a mix of CPU, memory, networking and storage, I'm confining myself here to the physical components "inside the box," CPU and RAM. The bottom line for IT managers is the return of best-practice concepts honed in the mainframe era but now given a uniquely x86 twist. Reliability, availability and serviceability in the virtual data center is expressed in commodity servers that are scaled out, beefed up and chained together so that a single physical machine or component can fail without bringing the business to a halt.

What will physical servers look like in just two or three years? At a Microsoft developer preview workshop at the company's headquarters earlier this month, officials said that guidance from hardware OEMs indicated that commodity servers would have between six and 64 logical cores, 64GB of RAM, a 40Gbit network interface card and cost $300 to $1,500.

VMware user George L. Reed, CIO at Seven Corners, a travel and specialty insurance provider based in Carmel, Ind., shared his thoughts about next-generation data center servers.

"We took 100 physical servers and virtualized them [in November 2010]," Read explained. "Today, we have about 150 virtual servers running. Working with our systems integration partner, we've moved onto a Cisco Unified Computing System/VMware vSphere implementation.

"We are looking at adding additional cloud equipment into the racks that were emptied when we did our initial virtualization. We are looking at applications that add picture and media and content. We are building today for a petabyte of data storage and a commensurate rise in CPU count," Reed said.