10 Server Hardware Highlights of 2010

From Oracle's acquisition of Sun to Cisco releasing servers to SSDs going mainstream, 2010 was an eventful year for server hardware. Here are the 10 most notable milestones.

1. Oracle Arrives in the Server World

Oracle bought Sun in January 2010, and then maintained radio silence for an uncomfortably long time. So it was a relief to see the fuss Larry Ellison paid to hardware at Oracle OpenWorld. Ellison devoted half his keynote to a server -- the Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud, which is a combination of software, servers, storage and networking that acts as an engine to run Java and other business applications. It consists of up to 30 64-bit Intel multi-core processor-based servers, an InfiniBand-based I/O fabric (running at 40 Gb/sec), 40 TB of SAN disk, 1 TB of solid state drives (SSD) and 3 TB of memory.

From Oracle's acquisition of Sun to Cisco releasing blade servers to SSDs going mainstream, 2010 was an eventful year for server hardware. Revisit the 10 most notable milestones.

"This Exalogic Elastic Cloud is hardware and software, engineered to work together -- a cloud in a box," said Ellison. "This is by far the fastest machine for running Java applications."

2. Big Box Appliances

Oracle Exadata 2, Oracle Exalogic, EMC Greenplum and more made 2010 the year of the big box appliance. Undoubtedly there are more to come.

"We saw the proliferation and return of bundled solutions such as server, storage, hardware and software stacks aligned to virtualization, databases and other functions," said Greg Schulz, an analyst at StorageIO Group.

3. SSD Replaces Memory, Not Disk

In 2009, all the talk was about SSD (or flash) replacing disk. While this still comes into the picture, what is emerging is flash replacing (or augmenting) memory in many applications. This trend also plays into the economics of SSD. Compared to disk, flash is a lot more expensive. Compared to memory, however, it is cheap.

Violin Memory, for example, has released vCACHE, which uses a combo of RAM and flash memory to deliver up to a 15 TB capacity cache to boost performance. It integrates Network File System (NFS) caching software from Gear6 with scalable Flash Memory Array technology from Violin Memory as a complement to servers and network attached storage (NAS). It centralizes massive pools of memory to serve data up to 50 times faster than disk.

"Flash memory solutions, such as vCACHE, that enable IT managers to integrate higher performance solid state storage quickly and efficiently, are poised to make significant inroads," said Jeff Janukowicz, an analyst at IDC.

4. VMware Continues to Soar

Attending this year's VMworld was an eye opener. For starters, the 25,000 attendees far outstripped the 400 attendees at its initial show in 2004. All the major server and storage vendors were in attendance, with most of them issuing press releases saying how they were more virtual than their competitors. It is obvious that virtualization continues to be the darling of the server space; there are no signs its popularity is flagging or competitors are gaining ground.

"VMware has become a focal point for server and storage vendors," said Schulz.

5. Would You Like a Chinese Server?

A few years back, China surprised the world by entering the laptop mainstream when Lenovo purchased ThinkPad from IBM. Shortly thereafter, Lenovo introduced some servers.

The latest move is for China to become a supercomputing champion. Tianhe-1A at the National Supercomputer Center in China just claimed the HPC crown form Top500.org based upon Nvidia graphics processing units (GPUs) as well as Intel Xeon 5600 series processors and a proprietary interconnect. Another Chinese system called Nebulae sits at No. 3 on the list.

The word out of China is that a whole lot of innovation went into these systems, and it is soon going to be commercialized and unveiled to the west. Bubbling under the surface are budding rivals in the storage, server and networking spaces. China, in other words, has the potential to fundamentally shake up the IT marketplace in short order.

This article was originally published on Dec 21, 2010
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