Servers, storage -- virtualise this

Servers, storage -- virtualise this

If you only had a single word to describe what 2005 meant in the world of servers and storage, that word would be "virtualisation." Announcements from IT vendors about what they were virtualising or planned to virtualise were rife throughout the year.

Virtualisation x86 server market leader VMware was active with new product releases and partnerships as well as opening up a portion of its software to third parties, all part of the company's grand plan to make its products ubiquitous. Meanwhile, XenSource became more of a serious competitor to VMware as it unwrapped both Xen 3.0, the latest version of its open-source virtualisation software, as well as the beta version of what will be its first commercial product, XenOptimiser, a set of tools to simplify server virtualisation.

While server virtualisation is well entrenched largely thanks to the pioneering efforts of VMware, some vendors, including VMware's own parent EMC are moving more slowly into offering storage virtualisation. So far, EMC's storage virtualisation strategy has yet to fully gel. What is known is that it will involve Invista, its product for SAN (storage area network) virtualisation, and the RainStorage network file virtualisation technology EMC acquired through its purchase of Rainfinity.

EMC doesn't expect the storage virtualisation market to really get going until late 2006 at the earliest, which differs from rival IBM's claims that many customers are already using its storage virtualisation software TotalStorage SAN Volume Controller. IBM even appointed a vice president of virtualisation in November to oversee the company's efforts in across-the-board virtualisation. Expect more to come out of the storage virtualisation partnership between IBM and Network Appliance next year.

Pricing decisions ahoy!

As we move into 2006, there's likely to be the same kind of hotly contested debate over the pricing of software for use on virtualised systems as there was throughout 2005 on how best to charge for applications running on dual-core servers. Dual-core servers have two processing cores on each CPU (central processing unit). In the end, the majority of software vendors in 2005 decided to charge per socket or processor on dual-core systems instead of per core, the glaring exception being Oracle, which opted for the rather torturous method of defining each core as 0.75 of a processor. It's unclear what pricing strategy software companies will adopt as the number of cores grows from dual-core to quad-core and beyond.

Multicore systems spreading

Dual-core servers based either on Intel's chips or those of its competitor Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) appeared over the course of 2005, Intel's dual-core Xeon playing catch-up to AMD's dual-Opteron processor. Vendors also began to commit to quad-core servers, but Sun Microsystems was the first major player to take the wraps off six-core and eight-core processors with the launch of its "Niagara" UltraSparc T1 chip. The company also touted the chip's low power consumption and its multithreaded capabilities.

You bought ... what?

Sun also wins the prize for the most surprising acquisition. While analysts were expecting the company to invest in a Linux distribution player, a database company or a services provider, Sun, among other purchases in the year, opted to buy Storage Technology (StorageTek) for $US4.1 billion. Sun's ultimate plans for its merged operation are likely to become clearer next year. The word from Sun executives suggests that the company will work to tie its authentication and identity management software into the StorageTek products.

I'm not dead — I'm feeling a lot better

At the high-end of computing, the mainframe was once more invigorated. IBM unveiled its System z9, the first in a planned new family of big iron with a special focus on security and systems management, representing $1.2 billion of development work over three years. At the same time, Big Blue and other IT vendors discussed the growing issue around who will tend the computer behemoths as experts in the field begin to retire. A number of initiatives were launched to encourage students to train on mainframes. Meanwhile, some mainframe professionals claimed such moves were more about producing a cheap pool of labour than anything else.

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