ServersVirtually Speaking: Vendors Claim Some Turf

Virtually Speaking: Vendors Claim Some Turf

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Amy Newman

Server sales are up for the third quarter, but the vendors are preparing for an inevitable virtual fight.

If your thoughts last week centered more around the stuffing in the turkey than the stuff in your server rooms, you weren’t alone. The end of the holiday weekend and the arrival of Cyber Monday at first seemed to have triggered a tryptophan-like hangover.

But while you were likely helping yourself to another slice of pie, Gartner was busy finalizing the quarterly server numbers that the OEMs wait for with baited breath and press releases at the ready.

On Monday, a few days later than usual, the research firm delivered third quarter server shipment statistics.

Gartner reported worldwide server revenue totaled $13.4 billion for third-quarter of 2007. Slightly more than 2.2 million units shipped. This is an increase of 8.7 percent on a unit basis and 2.6 percent on a revenue basis compared to the third quarter of 2006.

The quarterly server stats measure actual boxes shipped and revenue they generated — so what does this have to do with virtualization? Virtualization has a dotted-line relationship to consolidation, which has a direct correlation to fewer boxes being sold.

Perhaps virtualization will not spell gloom and doom for the OEMs, after all. As Senior Analyst Lillian Alvarado told, “We were thinking that the market would be slower due to virtualization, but it hasn’t shown that in this quarter.”

Save the champagne for New Year’s Eve, however. It’s more likely that enterprises are making long-delayed purchases and acquiring hardware that is better-suited for virtualization and consolidation as well as Windows Server 2008. Don’t forget, it’s x86 hardware that is driving this market.

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Whatever the motivation, despite the increase in sales, the hardware vendors appear to be increasingly attuned to their tenuous position. Many are hedging their bets and hitching their stars to a virtual wagon. A wise move, as the x86 space has a distinct commodity flavor to it.

Last week, for example, Virtual Iron and Dell revealed details of a newly forged reseller agreement. A small step for both players, perhaps, but one that shouldn’t be overlooked.

For Virtual Iron, it’s yet another inch forward toward recognition that its product is ready for the big leagues. For Dell, it’s confirmation of its renewed commitment to meeting enterprise’s needs and further proof that the embattled vendor is getting with the times.

Dell will use Virtual Iron’s distribution channel to resell the Virtual Iron’s Xen-based virtualization server to end users as part of its portfolio of server virtualization and storage offerings.

Two weeks ago at Oracle OpenWorld, Dell CEO Michael Dell unveiled changes to the Dell server lineup designed to refresh them — from the model numbers to the chips inside, and everything else in between.

Among the changes is Dell OpenManage 5.3, the company’s systems management software, which has been updated to provide advanced power monitoring and virtualization management features.

Dell, never an innovator, is in effect playing catch up to the other major OEMs, all of which have offered these features for some time.

From a practical perspective, the deal between Dell and Virtual Iron makes sense. According to Virtual Iron, many of its customers run the software on Dell Precision and PowerEdge servers already.

Dell isn’t the only OEM building a virtual fortress. On Tuesday, HP announced a deal with Scalent Systems. Under the terms of the agreement, the Scalent Virtual Operating Environment (Scalent V/OE) will be available with HP blade systems.

Beginning in December, HP will sell Scalent V/OE software as part of the HP BladeSystem c-Class Solution Builder Program. The most recent addition, the c3000 blade system, nicknamed “Shorty,” was introduced in September.

Scalent V/OE is designed to provide a fast install and recovery option for virtualized servers. Its real-time installation and update software works with pretty much any piece of hardware — rackmounted or bladed, x86 or SPARC, and, most importantly, nonvirtualized or servers running VMware ESX 3.0.

One of Scalent V/OE’s chief advantages is that it allows for a rapid change of the blade’s usage. If a blade running storage and Microsoft Exchange must be switched to Linux with a Web server, it’s simply a matter of changing settings to move the whole operating system, file system and applications to the blade.

Scalent V/OE is also designed to have built-in intelligence. Should a server or blade die, it can attempt to move the virtual environments running on the failed hardware to another blade or server. The software can also turn on an idle machine and install the software to keep the server running.

So will virtualization prove to be the next OEM battleground? Possibly, assuming the tools add significant value to the many virtual machines running off of the fewer, larger boxes. The vendors that are able to accomplish this will no doubt be the big winners, with perhaps consolidation in the vendor pool paralleling that of the server room.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been covering virtualization since 2001.

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