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Which Vendors to Rely On When it Comes to Data Center Design: Servers

December 28, 2017

No matter how much network design has changed, servers are still at the heart of the data center. How those servers are configured and integrated is what is enabling the new enterprise infrastructure. With the boom in cloud computing. Virtualization, and software-defined networking (SDN), data center servers are available in all shapes, sizes, and capacities. Choosing the right vendors for your next data center depends on capacity planning and identifying the applications you need today, and growth strategies for the future.

Server sales continue to grow and server vendors recorded their strongest shipment growth in four years in the first quarter of 2015. Server shipments were up 13 percent to 2.7 million units over the same period in 2014, and revenue was up 18 percent to $13.4 billion according to Gartner. Hyperscale infrastructures, where distributed systems use thousands of servers to power cloud and big data systems, is driving much of the demand. Vendor revenue are being driven by virtualization and consolidation, and IDC also noted that rack-optimized servers, blade servers, density-optimized servers, and tower servers were selling about equally.

So does this mean you have to shop for the most robust, high-performance hardware for your next data center project? Not necessarily. No one type of server is best suited to all tasks, so the first step in any data center project has to be capacity planning.

Start with Capacity Planning

No one server or server configuration is going to suit every business need. For smaller data centers with modest processing needs, the traditional architecture with old-fashioned dedicated servers may still make the most sense. It’s all about understanding applications consumption. If you are running typical business applications at a modest scale, then you want hearty workhorse servers to power the network. If, however, you are looking beyond the LAN to embrace cloud services, take on big data analytics, or tap larger data pools, then your requirements are going to differ.

The biggest factors driving server selection for today’s data centers are cloud computing and virtualization, SDN, and hyper-convergence. Successful capacity planning is about balancing current requirements with projected needs and making trade-offs along the way. So let’s consider these driving factors in light of capacity planning.

Virtualization is saving data centers money by consolidating virtual machines (VMs) on fewer servers. However, virtualized servers can become overloaded. VMs use server mapping to handle multiple applications, but every server has limitations. Whether a server can run four, five, or 20 VMs at the same time is determined through capacity planning. If you are planning to use software-defined networking or hyper-convergence, then you need the right server hardware to scale with the workload.

Hyper-convergence, for example, promises to tightly integrate computing, storage, networking, and virtualization in a commodity server, all managed through a single pane of glass. Hyper-converged hardware can be extremely valuable for applications such as managing virtualized workloads, but the components aren’t designed to be broken apart and redeployed so you have to plan for capacity requirements in advance.

Realizing Trends in Server Hardware

So what kinds of servers are vendors offering for current data center architectures? Here are some of the trends among the market leaders:

HP Enterprise – HP has the largest dollar share of the server market (46 percent in Q2 2015) and is touting its line of rack servers, tower servers, blade servers, and integrated servers as the ideal solution for software-defined networking. The HPE family of servers is designed to accommodate various needs, including density-optimized servers for bigger workloads such as bi data, mission-critical workloads, or high-capacity computing such as needed for a hybrid cloud infrastructure. And HPE offers its own converged management systems.

Cisco – Cisco is ranked number two in the server market with its Unified Computing Servers (UCS). Cisco’s servers are designed to scale to handle big data analytics and handle faster IT with tighter integration. The hardware also is designed to handle Cisco applications, such as the ONE Enterprise Cloud Suite for hybrid private cloud networking.

Lenovo – With the acquisition of IBM’s server business Lenovo is commanding market share for data center servers. Among the data center solutions that Lenovo is promoting hyper-converged appliances from Lenovo and Nutanix. The Lenovo Converged HX Series includes servers for smaller virtualization workloads, virtualization with more storage capacity, and high-performance servers for databases and I/O intensive workloads.

Dell – Dell has been gaining ground in the server market following the introduction of its PowerEdge server in June. Dell says its PowerEdge servers optimize compute and memory for high-performance computing. They also have hyper-converged solutions that include VMware EVO: Rail and Dell’s own XC converged appliances.

There are other vendors with various server products such as IBM, Intel, Oracle, and Super Micro Computer. Each of these companies offers products with their own unique advantages and applications. As you shop for the right servers for your next project, don’t let the hype and the new features sway you. Assess your customers’ data center needs and choose the right servers with the right features and the right extensibility to handle the applications and the workload.