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10 Server Room Must-Haves

By ServerWatch Staff (Send Email)
Posted Jun 3, 2008


Last week, voting wrapped up for the Third Annual ServerWatch Product Excellence Awards. The anticipation has been building for a week, but we can now bring you the results.

The ServerWatch Product Excellence Awards results are in. Find out what this year's choices are for favorite gear and tools.

After two years of holding this reader-driven program, we thought we knew what to expect. How naive we were. While in some cases history repeated and patterns continued, in others, new and sometimes surprising winners emerged.

As usual, innovation was a key driver, but this year, with enterprises tightening their belts and IT budgets growing leaner, the mindshare that accompanies being tried-and-true appears to have given these products an advantage.

To request an EPS version of a Product of the Year Award logo click here.

Small Business Server

There's nothing small about small businesses. With 25 million in the United States, according to the Small Business Administration, they are responsible for creating roughly two-thirds of all new jobs.

So it's no surprise the big vendors continue to see big opportunities in small and midsize business market. Despite ever-intensifying competition in the Small Business Server category, Dell defended its title edging out the Apple xServe.

The winning Dell PowerEdge 2970 is similar to its predecessor (the PowerEdge 2950) in that it's built to be a general-purpose server that shines whether it's playing the role of a application, database, file/print, e-mail or other type of server. However, PowerEdge 2970 does feature some notable distinctions. The biggest, of course, is that unlike the Intel Xeon-based 2950, the 2970 is based on AMD's Opteron dual-core processor.

Apple grabbed the runner-up spot with the Apple xServe. It took home the prize two years ago, so it's clear that Dell and Apple are now consistent favorites among ServerWatch readers.

As is typical with Apple products, the xServe carries a pricing premium over comparable Windows servers. The xServe is based on Apple's 64-bit OS X Server and includes an unlimited client license, which helps make up for that pricing premium. Because OS X is built on a Unix base, many server functions are repackaged open source applications, including Apache, Tomcat, MySQL, and Samba. Apple adds value by integrating its administration into an accessible, unified interface.

Winners and Runners-up
Small Business Server
Winner: Dell PowerEdge 2970
Runner-up: Apple xServe
Midrange Server
Winner: Sun SPARC Enterprise T5220
Runner-up: HP Integrity rx7640
High-End Server or Mainframe
Winner: HP Integrity Superdome
Runner-up: IBM System z10
Blade Server
Winner: HP BladeSystem C3000
Runner-up: IBM BladeCenter
Storage System
Winner: NetApp FAS2000 Series
Runner-up: Hitachi Simple Modular Storage Model 100
Operating System
Winner: Windows Server 2008 (Microsoft)
Runner-up: Mac OS X Server "Leopard" 10.5 (Apple)
Virtualization Platform
Winner: VMware Infrastructure 3
Runner-up: Citrix XenServer Enterprise Edition
Runner-up: Sun xVM
Virtualization Tool
Winner: VMLogix LabManager Manager
Runner-up: Hyperic HQ
Automation or Compliance Tool Tool
Winner: CommVault Simpana Software Suite
Runner-up: GridApp Clarity
Green Initiative
Winner: The Green Grid (thegreengrid.org)
Runner-up: Sun Eco Innovation

Midrange Server

The midrange server category has evolved to point where it's unclear what it means. Multicore has muddied the waters and no one is looking at raw processors anymore. Still, there are servers that are neither entry-level nor high-end and that are designed to meet needs that don't fall neatly into either category.

And some servers, like the Sun SPARC Enterprise T5220, which took first place, are particularly nimble. Unveiled in October, the T5220 was one of the the first rack-mount systems to use Sun's T2 processor, which features eight cores and supports eight threads per core. Although the 2U server contains a single processor, a spec that would not place it in the midrange categories of yore, it contains 64GB of memory and has room for eight hot-pluggable drives and can run either a 1.2GHz or 1.4GHz processor.

Readers also embraced the HP Integrity rx7640, a server that the OEM describes as midrange and well-suited for scaling to database hosting, ERP, CRM, business intelligence, data mining and data warehousing needs. The server holds up to eight dual-core Itanium processors and has 1200 GB (4x300 GB) of internal storage. Its memory capacity extends up to 256 GB, custom-designed 278pin DIMMs and bus bandwidth of 34 GB/s.

High-End Server or Mainframe

Historically, the high-end server market has been a crowded space with few players. HP and IBM typically dominate. Similarly, the pool of customers is small and deep-pocketed, yet they cannot afford downtime. Although the demographics are changing, most enterprises shopping for a mainframe fall near the Fortune 1000 line.

Therefore, it's not surprising that the traditional won out yet again. This year the HP Integrity Superdome took back top honors. It boasts more than twice the performance of the previous-generation, single-core products, and it achieves that at a reduced power consumption rate.

Perhaps the key selling point of this new generation of Superdome servers is the configuration choices available. Enterprises can choose from in 16-, 32-, and 64-socket models. Dual-core Itanium processors and the sx2000 chipset power the servers, which have no internal disks, and thus must relay on direct-attached storage (such as SCSI) or network-attached storage (e.g., Fibre Channel or high-speed Ethernet).

Meanwhile, IBM, which in 2007 won for its z9 mainframe Enterprise Class, took the runner-up slot with its latest mainframe offering — the z10. The z10 was unveiled in February, and is the biggest overhaul to Big Iron in nearly three years. The z10 was designed with an eye on energy efficiency and virtualization as the paramount goals. It's also primed for consolidation: Up to 1,500 x86 servers can fit on a single z10.

The two OEMs have been in winner's circle together before. In 2006, ServerWatch readers voted the HP Integrity Superdome to the top spot with the IBM z9 at its side.

Storage System

Storage continues to be a growing concern for businesses of all sizes. Not only are storage needs building, but the pressure to manage and retain data for compliance is growing as well. Increased capacity needs isn't the only storage constant — so is the winner of the Storage System category: NetApp repeated as champ with its award-winning NetApp FAS2000 Series.

Last year, NetApp StoreVault S500 took top honors. As it turns out, the StoreVault went out on top — earlier this year the vendor announced it was folding its small and medium business StoreVault division into its FAS storage unit.

At the time, NetApp said combining the product lines would allow it to expand the StoreVault platform into remote and branch offices as an extension of it core product line.

Apparently, ServerWatch readers agreed with the decision, as NetApp sailed to the win to defend its storage title.

In a bit of surprise, Hitachi's Simple Modular Storage Model 100 beat out EMC and IBM to take the runner-up award. Aimed at the SMB market. the Simple Modular Storage Model 100 supports four servers and protect up to 9TB of data.

Blade Server

Despite new-found competition from Sun and Hitachi, and perennially strong offerings from Engenera, the blade server market is still pretty much a two-horse race, according to ServerWatch readers.

However, like any good story, there's a bit of twist: The IBM BladeCenter was shooting for a three-peat in 2008, having taken the category in both 2006 and 2007. Although IBM is still on the mind of blade users, this year HP broke through to claim the top spot with the HP BladeSystem C3000 — aka, Shorty.

To knock IBM off its blade perch, HP needed to innovate, and it did. Shorty, as its name implies, is a compact blade enclosure aimed at smaller companies and remote offices. One of the appeals of C3000 is that it's compatible with HP's larger enclosure, the C7000. That is, it supports the same server and storage products and doesn't require special power, cooling or IT expertise to implement.

With the blade market heating up, IBM didn't earn the runner-up award sitting still. HP has Shorty, and Big Blue has the BladeCenter S. The 7U unit can be expanded to 11U for more blades, storage or tape backup. Aimed at smaller offices that may not have a dedicated server room, the BladeCenter S includes two useful features: a set of built-in air filters that block dust and a noise attenuator that muffles the sound of the fans.

Operating System

We'll be honest and say it was this category that surprised us the most. Windows Server 2008 was released on February 27, qualifying for the awards program by mere days. Windows gets a lot of press, but let's face it, it's more often than not press that Microsoft doesn't want.

Yet despite competition from what is often considered hipper and cooler — a leading enterprise-class Linux, a popular up-and-coming variant, a mature Unix distro, and the cultish Leopard — Windows Server 2008 was far and away the favored operating system. If our results are any sort of barometer, the reign of Windows Server 2008 in the data center has just begun.

And really, it's not all that surprising when one casts an unbiased eye. Windows Server 2008 contains myriad new functionality and improved features: Read-Only Domain Controller, Hyper-V and Role-based installation are at the tip of the iceberg. In addition to enhancements to ever-present security issues and terminal services, IIS 7 Web server has been updated to meet changing Web serving needs.

Nevertheless, the zeitgeist also had its day as Apple's Mac OS X Server "Leopard" 10.5 claimed the runner-up spot. Not bad for an operating system that in recent years has become more of an afterthought than the main event. Released in October 2007, Leopard's leap to the desktops of Mac enthusiasts was well-documented. Traditionally, Apple-enuthusiast love doesn't extend as far into the server room as it does in the enterprise, but it runs deep. Deep enough to bring it to runner-up status.

Virtualization Platform

Here, like the high-end server category, few players make for a crowded space. For the third year running, VMware took top honors. Unlike prior years, however, where ESX paved the road to victory, in the 208 awards, VMware Virtual Infrastructure brought home the gold.

VMware Virtual Infrastructure is no stranger to glory either. In 2007, it was runner up in the Virtualization Tool category. This year, we looked to recategorized the awards so that holistic virtualization offerings could be compared against each other.

VMware Virtual Infrastructure is positioned as the cornerstone of a VMware-based virtual infrastructure. Announced in fourth quarter 2007, Virtual Infrastructure 3 is designed to ease key pain points server admins face in both the physical and virtual worlds. Its two core modules are VMware ESX Server 3.5 and VirtualCenter 2.5 modules, but additional modules are available as well, including, VMware Storage VMotion, VMware Update Manager and VMware Distributed Power Management.

As unsurprised as we were that VMware took the lion's share of votes for first place, we were equally surprised to see Citrix XenServer Enterprise Edition and Sun xVM end up in a dead heat for the runner-up slot. In 2007, XenEnterprise for Windows took the silver. Since then the company was acquired, and the product repositioned, bolstered and re-released.

xVM made waves late last week when it announced it had surpassed the 5 million download mark. Clearly its x86 virtual infrastructure offering is indeed ready for prime time. The Sun xVM Infrastructure consists of xVM Server (a hypervisor component) and xVM Ops Center (a set of management tools) and scales across the shrinking server, storage and networking divide and to grow Sun's virtual footprint beyond its homegrown operating system.

Virtualization Tool

The virtual tool category is filled largely with small players meeting specific needs. The votes were tight, but VMLogix LabManager Manager edged out from the pack.

VMLogix, aside from competing with VMware Lab Manager, has nothing to do with VMware. In fact, the virtual lab automation solution lays claim to being the only one that supports Citrix XenServer (as well as VMware ESX). Its emphasis is on automation and the process leading to greater consistency and efficiency.

Hyperic HQ, meanwhile, took the runner-up spot.

Hyperic HQ automates systems and application management tasks for software in production. It runs on more than 65 different technologies, across all major operating systems, including Linux, Unix, Mac OS X and Windows natively. Of particular interest, here, is that the software monitors every layer of the infrastructure — physical and virtual.

It collects real-time and historical metrics from production hardware, network and application layers, then defines intelligent alerts that enable admins to anticipate problems as they brew. In addition, metrics can be set for resources to better assess equipment status.

Automation or Compliance Tool

The Automation and Compliance tool category is new to the ServerWatch Product Excellence Awards and reflects both the rise in data center automation tools and the need to ensure compliance thanks largely to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure act.

The Automation or Compliance Tool category covers a wide spectrum of products. However, readers had no problem zeroing in on CommVault Simpana Software Suite as the winner.

The Simpana Software suite is designed to integrate backup, recovery, replication and archive operations into a single platform. The Web-based interface for the search facility is designed to be straightforward enough for business, legal or compliance staff members to use.

Last year, GridApp took runner-up honors in the Server Appliance category. This year, the company once again made a strong showing to capture the silver in the Automation and Compliance category with GridApp Clarity.

GridApp Clarity's automation tool validates database and server configurations, provisions and patches new database environments, and manages environmental changes on an ongoing basis.

Green Initiative

Green is the color of the data center these days, so how could we not include a category that rewards environmentally friendly (as well as financially prudent) green initiatives?

The winner of ServerWatch's Green Initiative award is be hard to argue with, because it's an industry team effort. The Green Grid is a consortium dedicated to advancing energy efficiency in data centers and business computing ecosystems. The group was started by AMD in 2006 with founding members HP, IBM and Sun. Joining the four founder on the Green Grid's board are Dell, APC, Intel, Microsoft, Rackable Systems and Spray Cool.

While the finalists may have joined forces to create and perpetuate the Green Grid, HP, IBM, Intel and Sun were battling it out for the runner-up award. Sun left its peers green with envy as it emerged as the clear favorite for second place. The Sun Eco Innovation initiative is designed to cut energy costs and IT environmental impact by assessing, optimizing and virtualizing data center infrastructure.

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