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Hardware Today: Looking Beyond Big

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Sep 13, 2005


The latest batch of server statistics from the Framingham, Mass. research firm IDC revealed little that was new: The top-five vendors continued to dominate the market in the second quarter of 2005, accounting for nearly 85 percent of $12 billion dollars in total server shipments.

We dive past the top-five vendors in quarterly server shipment and revenue statistics to look at some of the interesting smaller players: Colfax International, Egenera, Tyan Computer, and Unisys.

To read the subsequent analysis, one would think that there is no life beyond the top five and the white box market, which we explored last week.

Other surveys, however, reveal that  less-prominent players have found niches. Although IBM dominated the June 2005 Top 500 Supercomputers list with its Blue Gene cluster series, Silicon Graphics (Mountain View, Calif.), Cray (Seattle, Wash.), and California Digital Corporation (Fremont, Calif.), each had new systems that made the the Top 10.

It is this market we turn our attention to this week. We spoke to four vendors that manufacture everything from bare-bones servers to supercomputers to see what is new and what they plan to release over the next year.

Management and Virtualization

Tyan Computer, a Taiwan-based firm with its engineering headquarters in Fremont, Calif., sells both bare-bones server platforms and system boards.

"Tyan historically has done well in markets that require mid to high-end servers or workstations," says John Nguyen, Product Manager at Tyan's Fremont office. "Recently, we have found a great deal of success in introducing products to entry-level markets with compact, lower-cost platforms, and systems that enable customers to build entire networks at manageable costs."

Its Transport servers, which are available through VARs and resellers, come in 1U to 5U configurations with AMD Opteron or Intel Xeon or P4 processors. The top-of-the-line Transport VX50 was announced in June and will be ready for mass shipment in fourth quarter 2005. It supports up to eight Opteron 800 series processors, 128 GB of DDR400/333 memory, and eight hard drives, four of which are hot-swappable.

"Trends toward pay-for-use and pay-for-service will continue to evolve and become one of the key battlefields in 2006." — Chander Khanna, general manager of Unisys ClearPath solutions and services

"There have been a number of new developments in the motherboard and IT system industries over the past few months, including the emergence of multicore technology and virtualization," Nguyen continues. "All of these are highly beneficial in providing customers with the ability to increase efficiency and performance in their applications, while at the same time leveraging existing software and hardware architectures to keep cost overhead low."

Looking ahead to the next three to six months, he sees a gradual migration from PCI, PCI-X, and DDR400 to PCI Express, DDR2, and SATA-II. He also foresees Fully-Buffered DIMM (FBDIMM), Serial Attached SCSI (SAS), and Intel's new multicore processors becoming mainstream in 2006.

"In addition, there are several new developments in remote management architectures and implementations which should help provide more convenience and options to customers overall," says Nguyen. "It is no longer an enterprise-only technology. Many midsize businesses are realizing the value of being able to consolidate IT management resources while retaining control over growing network systems."

Mainframe Java

While Unisys of Blue Bell, Penn. has a long hardware history, going as far back as 1873 to the Remington typewriter and then the ENIAC and UNIVAC in the 1940s and 1950s. In the past decade, its emphasis shifted to providing the IT services that now account for more than 80 percent of its revenue. Nevertheless, Unisys sold more than $1 billion worth of technology products in 2004, including mainframes, Linux and Windows servers, and printers.

"One of the things that makes Unisys stand out is our deep knowledge and experience serving clients in financial services, the public sector, telecom and transportation, and the Federal government," says Chander Khanna, general manager of Unisys ClearPath solutions and services. "Our expertise in these markets builds on our historical ability to deliver end-to-end solutions and services built on a very powerful foundation of Unisys technology."

In the past few months, Unisys made several additions to both its mainframe and server areas. In early June, it announced the availability of a "Real Time Capacity" (RTC) series of its ES7000 servers. The ES7000 RTC servers are the first Intel-based servers providing capacity on demand for Windows and Linux (SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS version 4).

The following month, Unisys announced three additions to its ClearPath Libra server series: the Libra Models 595, 585, and 300, all of which are designed to run mainstream applications, such as those built using Java J2EE, in a mainframe environment. The new servers range in price from $50,000 to $30 million. Later this year, Unisys will introduce a new pricing model called pay-for-service in which clients pay for computing power used according to a pre-defined metric applicable to their business, rather than on a per-processor basis.

"Trends toward pay-for-use and pay-for-service will continue to evolve and become one of the key battlefields in 2006," says Khanna. "I think we will also start to see the focus on information life cycle management start to pick up steam, and we'll begin to see greater virtualization within disparate operating environments."

>> Colfax, Egenera

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