Monday, December 24, 2007

2008: The year of server flipping

We've all heard too much about "flipping houses" on various TV shows, magazines, web sites, etc. The practice of buying a "fixer-upper", fixing it upper, and then selling it for a profit, is a respectable effort (even a profession in some cases). But how does this fit with the IT world?

Simple: It fits with virtualization and existing hardware. A lot of the buzz being regurgitated on the web today is about how much virtualization will play in data center plans for 2008. There are all sorts of reasons and rationale provided. The interesting thing is how the various offerings will "fit" with respect to budgets and refresh cycles in most medium/large data center environments.

Many big spenders just finished a round of big spending, so it may be a tough thing for many IT managers to gently pry open the boardroom door again and kindly ask for more funding to chase after yet another enticing goal. The benefits are easy enough to justify and bulletize:
  • Run more roles on less hardware
  • Reduce electricity costs (hardware, cooling, etc.)
  • Portability and failover simplification (aka Disaster Recovery)
  • blah blah blah

Then comes the clincher: How much?

Well, the answer is, as always: "It depends".

On what? Well, you may be able to leverage your existing hardware, but that depends on which virtualization platform product line you intend to pursue. EMC's VMware ESX Server, Microsoft's upcoming Hyper-V and Hyper-V Server products, and open source (sort of) products by Xen and others, each have their own hardware limitations with respect to the physical host machine. That said, in a perfect world, many will be more than happy to buy new hardware with the latest and greatest goodies built-in, and begin consolidating their older machines into VM guest instances on the newer box. But in reality, many will be forced (by the evil budget folks) to make-do with existing hardware. In many cases that will mean hardware that won't run 64-bit products.

What to do?

Many will roll up their sleeves, drink some coffee, tell a few bad jokes, and while everyone is trying hard to laugh (like it was really funny), the IT tech will be switfly wiping a box and reloading with something like Linux and VMware Server 2.0, both of which are FREE and run just fine on 32-bit hardware. Ideal? Not really. But then again, define "Ideal". It is an entirely subjective term, like my other favorite terms: good, great, ok, fine, not too bad, and my favorite of favorites - so-so.

I will call this "flipping servers", since it's not moving things (servers) from older hardware to virtual instances on newer hardware. It will be ripping the walls and floors out and rebuilding the insides of the house and moving all new appliances and furniture (and tenants) in. Slick-n-reload as many refer to it.

So, for 2008, I see a considerable amount of server flipping in the pipeline. Everyone wants to virtualize and consolidate and gain from the benefits. But many don't have the budget or the cojones to ask for a budget increase to do it the way the vendors recommend. And is this really a failure? Hell no. Not by a long shot. It's getting the job done within imposed constraints. And in most cases it will work just fine. Maybe not for the likes of eBay, Amazon.com, or WSJ, but for most small-medium business data center environments (ok, "server rooms" for most of us), it will be what works and be affordable and attainable.

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