Last week, the ballot box on the Second Annual ServerWatch Product Excellence Awards was sealed shut and the votes were counted. This week, we bring you the results.
What server hardware and software stood out in the hearts and minds of ServerWatch readers? Whether open source or commercial, from big vendor or small, this year’s winners share a commitment to innovation, value and service.
While some were predictable — IBM has traditionally been a leader in the mainframe space, for example — others surprised us, and are perhaps indicative of changing market conditions making new market leaders.
One trend was clear though: Innovation that meets enterprises’ needs is paramount. Many of our winners beat out more-established players for this very reason. Technology is not a stagnant arena, and your votes reinforce that vendors that rely purely on customer loyalty will not fare well in the long term against those that look at what enterprises are purchasing and deploying and innovate accordingly.
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Small Business Server
If there was a time when small business users had to make due with fewer and less-sophisticated options than their larger brethren had, those days are clearly over. The big vendors all continue to push hard to earn small business dollars.
Just as Dell seems to be emerging from it Wall Street woes, it also stepped up to claim the ServerWatch Product Excellence award in the Small Business Server category. And make no mistake about it, the Dell PowerEdge 840 is definitely aimed at small businesses as far the price. A starting price of $749 buys you some impressive hardware, including dual-core Intel Xeon 3000 series processors and SAS and SATA hot-pluggable storage technology.
The runner-up is the IBM System x3105, which has an even lower entry point: $499. IBM says the server is positioned for small businesses that in the past may have forced a PC into duty as a server. It comes with a single-core AMD Athlon 3500+ or, if you want more horsepower, a server-branded dual-core AMD Opteron processor.
Historically, the midrange server space has been an odd place to be. With commodity servers filling the entry-level landscape, that continues to hold true. It used to be easy to spot a midrange system based on the number of processor it housed. With multicore becoming all the rage and servers being described by the number of sockets and cores they contain, apples to apples comparisons aren’t as easily spotted as they used to be.
Still, the midrange category continues to be an important one.
Last year, HP’s ProLiant DL 585 was our runner-up. This year, the OEM went all the way to first place with the HP ProLiant DL580 G4. HP has long dubbed the DL580 “the world’s best-selling server,” and if our readers’ responses to its nomination are any indication, its position is secure.
The most recent incarnation of the DL580 is the DL580 G4, which was released in August 2006 amid Intel’s “summer of severs.” The 4-socket server supports dual-core 64-bit Intel Xeon Processors with up to 16MB of shared L3 cache. It features an 800MHz dual-core independent front-side bus, 64GB total memory with 4GB DIMMs, and internal storage up to 576 gigabytes with eight small form factor SAS hard drives.
The runner up in the midrange category is nothing to sneeze at either. The IBM System p5 560Q may be aimed at the SMB crowd, but its 4- to 16-core POWER5+ processors, minimal 1.5 GHz clock speed, and 2GB of standard memory position it at the heart of the midrange market.
In February, Big Blue revamped the 560Q to make it more virtualization friendly. It now supports up to 160 virtual partitions per machine. It also follows a building block architecture that enables it to support up to 80 cores per rack. In addition, the 560Q comes with Advanced POWER Virtualization software to manage virtual environments.
High-End Server on Mainframe
If you’re in the market for a mainframe, chances are you have money to spend and uptime to uphold to ensure that mission-critical data is accessible and transactions can go on. IBM has historically been perceived as the mainframe king that makes this possible. Therefore, it was hard to even feign surprise when its System z9 Enterprise Class picked up 69 percent of the vote in this category.
Last year, when IBM took the runner-up spot for the z9 mainframe, we described the server as “about as big as Big Iron can get.” In 2006, Big Iron got bigger. The z9-109 version of the z9 has since been revised and released as the System z9 Enterprise Class (z9 EC). Features new to the z9 EC are versatile capacity settings and the z9 Integrated Information Processor (IBM zIIP), which is designed to improve resource optimization and lower the cost of eligible work. IBM FICON performance and throughput has also been improved.
Sun Microsystems took the runner-up spot with the Sun Fire E25K. Like the z9, the Sun Fire E25K has been on the market for several years now. Its most recent overhaul enables the server to scale up to 72 processors with 144 simultaneous compute threads and more than 1TB of memory. Most parts are hot-swappable, and enterprises can mix and match UltraSPARC III, IV and IV+ processors to maximize performance.
More documents, more voice and video, and more compliance requirements continue to push the need for sophisticated storage products to move and retain all that data. Of course, there’s no shortage of powerful vendors looking to meet those needs network storage products.
Network Appliance may not be the biggest of those storage system vendors, but it is arguably the fastest growing. For that reason, we weren’t at all shocked to see the NetApp StoreVault S500 sail past offerings from EMC and HP to take more than a third of the votes and win the hotly contested Storage System category.
NetApp’s StoreVault S500, the first product announced in the company’s small business unit, features the NetApp’s Data OnTap operating system to handle NAS, iSCSI and Fibre Channel storage protocols. It also includes the vendor’s Snapshot technology for logging as many as 250 Snapshot images, as well as SnapRestore for real-time data restoration.
While NetApp may not have been a surprise, the same can’t be said about the runner-up: Pillar Data Systems’ Axiom Storage System Pillar. Backed by $150 million from Oracle CEO Larry Ellison’s venture firm Tako Ventures, Pillar has been trying to break into a market dominated by big-name vendors. Giving that it took 21 percent of your votes, it looks like it’s making progress.
The Pillar Axiom Storage system consists of these core elements: management software, Pilot, a single policy controller runs the management function; Slammer, up to four high-performance, high-reliability data movers and managers provide non-stop data access; and Brick, up to 32 storage enclosures provide the high-performance storage for the common SAN or NAS storage pool.
Is the rising virtualization tide lifting the blade server boat as well? It’s an easy case to make, as blades and virtualization appear to be joined at the hip. If 2006 was the year of virtualization, it only stands to reason that it was a good year for blades as well. It looks like it will only to get better, as recent forecasts from Gartner indicate that about 20 percent of servers that ship in 2011 will be in a blade form-factor.
Research giants IDC and Gartner concur that IBM and HP dominate the blade marketplace, so it’s no surprise that Big Blue and HP finished first and second, respectively, in this category.
While revenue and market share numbers may be close, you were clear about your preference. IBM’s BladeCenter sailed to a decisive win to repeat as the winner. IBM continues to push its blade hard. For example, earlier this year it pumped up its BladeCenter H system with its Virtual Fabric Architecture, which Big Blue claims is the industry’s first 10-Gigabit Ethernet connectivity to a blade.
Coming in a clear, albeit distant (30 percent of the vote vs. IBM’s almost 60 percent) second place was the HP BladeSystem. HP has been busy tying its blade technology more closely to virtualization technology. In March, it began shipping its Virtual Connect Ethernet and Fibre Channel modules for its c-Class BladeSystem.
Server appliances continue to appeal to businesses, especially small and midsize businesses, looking for easy-to-deploy servers with preconfigured software.
Taking top honors in the category with 46 percent of the votes is the Symantec Mail Security 8300 Series. The appliance is designed to integrate best-of-breed antispam, antivirus, and content-filtering software. Taking the appliance concept more upstream, Symantec’s new Premium Content Control is an add-on subscription designed to help organizations manage risks associated with data leakage, regulatory compliance and internal governance.
Making a strong showing to take runner-up honors is the D2500 Database Appliance. The GridApp Systems appliance took 23 percent of the vote. Enhancements added to the latest unit include integration with third-party monitoring and management systems, the capability to storage technology for Oracle Real Application Clusters (RAC), a new storage management interface for Oracle RAC and support for 64-bit Oracle on Linux.
With server sprawl in both the physical and virtual realms and an increase in the number and kinds pf devices on the server room floor, infrastructure tools are more important than ever. This year’s nominees reflected the functionality trends prevalent in the infrastructure tools space.
Our top three contenders were all close, but Opsware System nailed it, picking up nearly one-third of the vote. Opsware, once best known as Marc Andreessen’s follow up to Netscape, is now known for its suite of data center automation tools. Automation tools aim to remove the human (and thus human error), where possible, from processes though policies and algorithms.
Opsware System is the company’s integrated product family of infrastructure tools and flagship offering. It automates aspects of deploying and managing applications throughout the ecosystem and provides IT administrators with a unified picture of an application’s complete presence within the enterprise. Recent versions have integrated the needs of virtual servers with the needs of physical servers.
HP OpenView (which last year took first place) and BMC Performance Manager tied for runner up. OpenView offers a unified front for server management. It keeps track of storage, networking, security, server performance and server software. Since the Mercury acquisition in November 2006, HP has been moving OpenView into the service-oriented architecture (SOA) space.
BMC Performance Manager agentlessly monitors the performance and availability of servers, applications, and storage and network devices. It monitors the performance and availability of Web transactions as well as the infrastructure itself.
Few surprises here. VMware, which claims more than 50 percent market share in the virtual ecosystem space, took in a whopping 64 percent of the vote and once again took top honors for best virtual environment. ESX server is the heart of VMware’s enterprise-grade virtualization offerings and includes the VMware hypervisor. ESX Server installs at the “bare metal” level, thus enabling as many unmodified operating system instances as you want, along with their applications, to run in virtual machines that share physical resources.
Trailing VMware ESX Server, were the virtualization platforms from Virtual Iron, with 11 percent of the vote, and XenEnterprise for Windows from XenSource, with 12 percent of the vote. Both environments are built around on the open source Xen hypervisor, and like VMware ESX, both virtualize natively.
Virtual Iron’s solution delivers policy-based virtualization management for a shared pool of dynamic server, storage and network resources.
Initially released in November 2006, XenEnterprise for Windows offers an easy installation of the Xen open source hypervisor, along with management and configuration interfaces. The product also leverages the alliance XenSource struck with Microsoft in July 2006 to provide interoperability between Microsoft’s Windows Server virtualization and the Xen hypervisor.
While the virtualization environment is important, even more critical are the tools used to manage it. Many of the vendors in the virtualization platform space offer tools to control these increasingly complex virtual infrastructures.
Here, IBM Virtualization Manager took the lead with 48 percent of respondents choosing the Big Blue offering. IBM’s experience with virtualization goes back to its mainframe days — back when virtualization was known as partitioning. It has been a proponent of x86 virtualization for nearly a decade.
IBM Virtualization Manager is actually an extension to IBM Director that enables admins to discover, visualize and manage both physical and virtual systems from a single console. Virtualization Manager is compatible with VMware and Microsoft Virtual Server environments, as well as feature technology preview for Xen management.
As surprised as we were to see IBM take the lead, we were not at all surprised to see VMware take the runner-up spot with its VMware Infrastructure product suite. VMware Infrastructure picked up 36 percent of the vote. The suite is made up of eight components:
ESX Server, VMFS (a high-performance cluster file system for storage virtualization), Virtual SMP (a module providing multiprocessor support for virtual machines), VirtualCenter (the central spot to manage, automate and optimize the IT infrastructure), High Availability (a high-availability engine), DRS (a module that delivers dynamic balancing and allocation of resources), VMotion (live migration tool), and Consolidated Backup (centralized backup software for virtual machines).
The Communications Server category reinforced that ServerWatch readers love of all things open source. Interestingly, the winner and runner-up take different approach to providing their servers.
The Axigen Mail Server won this competitive category taking more than 40 percent of vote. The Unix-based server is built to ease admins integration headaches by offering a turnkey approach to providing a variety of separate open source components in one proprietary codebase. The off-the-shelf mail server runs on Linux/BSD platforms such as Red Hat, SUSE or Ubuntu.
Taking the runner-up spot is Zimbra Collaboration Suite. Although it’s been around for less than two years, the open source, standards-based e-mail and collaboration server continues to build a large and loyal base of users. What’s not to like: It provides an easy migration path from Microsoft Exchange, recognizes the importance of working with Outlook and taps the power of Ajax technology to exploit the benefits of Web services.