Finding the best server solution for your IT environment depends on your organization's specific needs, requirements and constraints. Ultimately, the best server will be the one that meets and exceeds your primary requirements, while providing some extra features and capabilities to improve performance now and into the future.
Once you have narrowed down your search and found a server solution to meet your midmarket needs, the next steps are acquisition, installation, configuration and ongoing management. The options and decisions made during the selection process should help determine how easily the solution will integrate into your hardware and software environment, as well as how well it will integrate with the people, processes and skill sets required to maintain it.
Primary physical server manufacturers include Apple Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. (Unified Computing Systems), Dell Inc., EMC (Vblock), Fujitsu, NEC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM, Oracle Corp./Sun, Silicon Graphics International Corp. and Super Micro Computer Inc. These companies are represented by a mix of direct sales, direct touch markets and technical support, as well as channel value-added resellers (VARs) and solution providers that bundle their applications with different hardware offerings.
Most vendors, including VARs, should provide various tools, such as sizers or calculators, to help guide you through the server selection process. Which company to buy from will depend on your specific environment's size, current affiliations, preferences, purchasing guidelines or policies.
Justifying the server acquisition
You may have determined your needs or requirements from a business, application and technology standpoint -- and found server solution options and alternatives -- but how do you get approval and funding for your server project? In "Buying a server? How midmarket CIOs can determine their needs," we discussed the role and importance of a capacity forecast and plan. Not only is a forecast useful in determining needs and requirements but, when translated into business impact and benefits, it's also a powerful tool for seeking acquisition approvals. As such, it is important to include your planning forecast as part of your justification for business terms documentation.
Part of a reseller's value add is assisting you in the justification process. Seek out available services, either for a fee or as part of the presales support. For example, a VAR should be able to help you prepare a capacity forecast plan, identify suitable alternatives and available server solution options, price out specific models and features and help you find all the rebates and incentive programs available from local energy providers.
Server management tools and deployment
In addition to the initial setup and configuration process, other tasks will include stabling server snapshot schedules and integrating your new server with your current applications. There are a number of management tools with wizards and other easy-to-use features to help you facilitate rapid setup, configuration, initial deployments and ongoing day-to-day operations.
Most vendors, including VARs, should provide various tools, such as sizers or calculators, to help guide you through the server selection process.
With server virtualization becoming more prominent in midmarket environments, integration with hypervisor tools is also important and, as a result, end-to-end (E2E) management should also be considered. E2E management enables virtual servers, storage networking equipment, storage devices and associated software to be centrally managed -- easing some of the burdens on smaller IT shops. Consequently, look for servers with the tools as well as ability to support E2E solutions, to reduce many of the management task complexities.
Servers are essential for running business applications and processing data. Demand for server compute power continues to increase, and servers depend on electrical energy to function. Moving forward, expect continuous improvement on the server front -- especially in processing capabilities and functionalities -- while also fitting into smaller energy footprints and improving energy efficiencies in power and cooling.
If cost savings are a key objective, in addition to reducing hardware costs, consider how software costs -- including licenses and maintenance fees -- can be reduced or shifted to boost savings.
Bottom line: Look for a server solution that meets or exceeds your basic needs, is flexible and resilient enough to grow in and adapt to your changing business requirements, and that truly works for you -- not the other way around.
Greg Schulz is founder of The Server and StorageIO Group, an independent IT advisory and consultancy firm based in Stillwater, Minn. He is also author of the books The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC) and Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier). Follow him on Twitter at @storageio.
This was first published in July 2010