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Application load determines server choice.
While servers are getting commoditized, MBs are using both Windows and UNIX servers for their business applications. By Varun Aggarwal
Need has driven most of the innovations in the world and the same is the case with computers. The initial hiccups with computers in the 1970s were their humongous size and limited functionality. Though they needed more power for cooling than that required for perhaps an entire shopping mall, they often did not bring about any value addition for the owner. Times changed and engineers around the world tried hard to make this machine more 'usable' for their owner.
While, the usability of computers took a shape of necessity for most of us, the 'need' has grown to reliability. Reliability often translated to high costs -this lead to further innovation in the 'not-so reliable' x86 platform, making the inexpensive platform almost as reliable as UNIX.
Now that x86 stated to intrude into the UNIX space, the vendors also started targeting the x86 customers with easy to configure and manage and relatively inexpensive server boxes-giving ample choice to MBs while making their pick for a server.
Growing acceptance of Windows and UNIX servers
As desktops, notebooks and printers become a standard in the mid-segment market, the MBs are now focusing on core-applications that can bring efficiency in their business operations as well speed-up their time to market as they expand in an economy which is expected to grow marginally slower in 2008-09. Therefore, to run their core-business application they are heavily dependent on servers, which is why it is rated as the second most important technology after desktop, printers and connectivity. From manufacturing to retail, construction to BFSI, servers are everywhere. According to our survey, 91% of the 194 respondents had some or the other kind of server deployments.
Growing awareness about technology is leading to various MBs investing into technologies other than the basic desktops, printers and networking. Servers are also becoming a standard component present in every medium enterprise-what is notable here is that unlike the SBs that are investing in mostly Windows-based servers, MBs are investing into different server technologies. The survey indicates that while Windows servers are still leading in this segment, there is also considerable demand for UNIX and Linux servers. Out of 194 respondents, 79% confirmed that they are using Windows servers while there were still 38% using Linux. Even the UNIX users were not all that less with 25% respondents confirming UNIX deployments in their organizations.
An analysis of the Rank-1 spending areas for current and next 12 months, indicate that at present desktops dominate the pie at 48%, followed by laptops (14%) and servers (5%). However, in the next 12 months there is anticipated to be a shift in trends; the share of servers, networking and other advanced applications like storage and security is likely to rise at the expense of desktop (a drop from 48% to 41%).
Over two-thirds of MBs contacted said that they are keen to open new branches to increase geographical coverage and cater to a newer and larger customer base. The BFSI and IT/ ITES verticals, in particular, expect above-average growth. The increasing number of branches would lead to a rise in connectivity, networking and server deployments.
According to the survey MBs are planning to spend on an average of Rs 6.4 lakh in the current fiscal on server technologies.
Business applications determine server platform
As per our observation, server OSs (Windows, Linux and UNIX) may not be competing with each other in the MB segment. Companies often go for a mix of server technologies in order to support different applications. While, Windows server is popular amongst organizations relying on Microsoft's technologies, Linux is preferred amongst the open source evangelists.
UNIX, meanwhile, is the platform by default choice for running high-end or transaction-oriented applications. The manufacturing industry vertical showed the highest level of UNIX penetration with 28% of the respondents having UNIX deployments out of 194 respondents. Kotak Wealth Management uses both Windows as well as Linux servers. The company has 15 servers across various locations. According to Nagraj Poojari, Manager IT, Kotak Wealth Management, "While we use the Windows server primarily as a mail server for Microsoft Exchange, the Linux servers are outsourced to a third-party vendor that carries the banking application workload."
Poojari explained that the decision for choosing the platforms was which was better for the applications that were required to run on that system. The company is now planning to go for a NAS server to support its database growth and would be shelling out Rs 25 lakh for the same.
Another example is of Intercontinental Consultancy and Technocrats (ICT) Pvt Ltd, which is a company in the design consultancy business. Intercontinental Consultants and Technocrats Pvt. Ltd. has an employee strength of about 1,200 globally with over 375 employees and 350 personal computers at its corporate headquarters at New Delhi. The company believes in a multi-platform approach. It has both Linux and Windows servers depending on the applications that are running.
D. Vasudevan, Senior Vice President and Head, Information Technology Services, Intercontinental Consultants and Technocrats Pvt. Ltd. said, "We are using Windows Server 2003 for Networking Services. We are also using applications like Wireshark for Network troubleshooting. For hosted application, we have our Web site on Linux. We are also hosting Intranet (ICT Internal Employee Web site) for corporate news and information."
"We have mixed use of operating systems that are both Microsoft Windows as well as Linux. Microsoft SQL Server continues to be the popular database for our applications. We use open source for mail server (Sendmail) and Web server applications. For database and mail servers, we use Windows XP and SQL Microsoft outlook enterprise," he added.
Try server virtualization to increase efficiency>
As most MBs have ambitions of becoming bigger players, the role of technology will be crucial as they try to scale up while reducing costs. A server is the building block of a data center. Hence MBs should look to save money and enhance production by consolidating workloads onto more powerful yet energy-efficient servers that can bring down the cost of operating a data center.
Virtualization has engendered a good level of confidence amongst CIOs and data center architects. Virtualization technologies separate software from hardware letting users eliminate multiple physical servers and get the processing power that they need from fewer boxes.
There are various benefits while implementing virtualization solutions over servers, but some of the benefits of virtualization are multiple operating systems that can run simultaneously on the same processor. Each independent virtual machine functions as a self-contained computer. Apart from this, in a virtualized server, workloads are decoupled from hardware.
The respondents from the Utilities/ Transportation/ Real Estate/ Construction industry vertical showed the least interest in centralizing their applications, with only 88% having deployed servers. Even in the current fiscal, only 74% of the respondents from this vertical are planning to invest in servers.
With low server adoption it's usually assumed that the preferred platform would be Windows for its simplicity and the wide array of applications available on the Windows platform. However, this sector is also one of the biggest adopter of Linux, with 33% of the respondents adopting Linux servers and 20% planning to invest in it in the current fiscal. Surprisingly, 22% of the respondents also confirmed UNIX deployments in this sector and 19% planning to invest in UNIX this year. Refer graph
The percentage figures represent planned technology penetration /usage within MBs. These numbers may add up to more than 100% since a particular respondent may plan to invest on multiple technologies. Base = 189
The whole/ retail industry vertical, which was the least IT savvy sector in the small business survey, came out to be the most IT savvy in the MB survey. Interestingly, while 96% of the respondents from this industry vertical had invested in servers, about 54% of them had invested in a Linux platform. Here, the mail server was the most common application where we saw Linux server deployment.
Jaipur Rugs that deployed both Linux and Windows servers uses the former as a mail server, while the latter is used for running its ERP application. Talking about the criterion for choosing the servers, Yogesh Chaudhary, Director, Jaipur Rugs said, "While purchasing a server, I think the first criteria is the requirement and the applications we want to run on the server and then we decide what kind of server we want. Brand is the second thing, so we choose only top brands since reliability in servers is a key. All the other parameters like scalability, possible configurations, costs etc come next."
Linux adoption was found to be surprisingly low in the IT/ITES sector. While 82% of the respondents are using Windows servers, only 25% had deployed Linux servers. In 2008-09, Windows servers will be the favorite investment area as 71% of the respondents from this vertical are planning to invest in the same, while only 25% showed interest in Linux deployments.
For Comnet Vision, an IT/ ITES company based in New Delhi, most of the software used in the organization is home grown-be it an MIS application or even ERP. According to P.K. Sharma, Proprietor, Comnet Vision, the choice of server at Comnet vision is Windows that handles the workload of their office automation system and their customized ERP application along with other applications.
Moving from being a SB to a MB, the use of IT shows significant improvement in the manufacturing sector. With 95% server deployment, the manufacturing sector is serious about server deployments. Yet, in many organizations, the use of technology is limited. Though most of them do have a server deployment, they are not high on the usage of servers.
Bihar Sponge Iron Ltd has deployed two Windows servers that support the company's ERP along with a small number of desktops clients 15 units. Susheel Kumar Bachheti, Assistant Manager, EDP, Bihar Sponge Iron Ltd said, "We wanted to keep it simple and as we do not have a large IT setup we decided to deploy two assembled Windows servers. The skill-set on Windows platform is readily available and cheaper than proprietary platforms."
What we saw in the SB survey was that the 36% of the BFSI sector respondents had deployed Linux. In the MB it's a different trend. There is a higher interest in the UNIX platform here compared to the SBs but the Linux deployment is only 29%. 26% of the respondents had UNIX deployments while 33% were planning one in the next 12 months out of the 189 respondents. Refer graph
Last but not the least, the Professional/ other services sector is also moving in the right direction with 94% of the respondents having deployed servers and 73% planning investments in the server space. Among the respondents, 76% had deployed Windows. Not very far behind was the Linux platform which was adopted by 45% of the respondents. In terms of UNIX deployment, there were 24% respondents who had already deployed it and another 30% planning to invest in it this year.
Advantages of Linux
There are several advantages to using Linux. These include: cost of the Linux OS and the license fee. There are no bothersome site licenses or End User License Agreements to deal with, and no do-not-redistribute-or-modify agreements to sign. The only expenses involved are those of hardware and maintenance.
Linux machines are not only robust but they are also flexible. One can easily customize it to suit his needs as opposed to proprietary software which are built to address vertical needs and not individual requirements. It reduces costs significantly, not just the initial cost but also that of maintenance.
The way ahead
For IT managers building centers with large number of servers, the performance-per-watt criterion is critical. In the recent past, the number of servers is increasing with every quarter be it for new applications, high availability or disaster recovery and business continuity. This has a direct impact on energy consumption per square foot in a data center and has a noticeable impact on a data center's TCO.
Using energy-efficient servers is just another way to bring down the running cost of a data center. A typical x86 server consumes between 30 and 40% of its maximum power when it's idle, so running systems with light workloads wastes power. Increasing the average utilization of servers can yield significant benefits in overall operational efficiency. Additionally there are many MBs here who are expanding their head-count on a quarterly basis and their IT heads are seriously considering power consumption while deciding on what servers to buy. The power envelope will be a big factor in going for multi-core servers in the coming year as well. Businesses are looking at multi-core to accelerate their business and are building powerful servers within their data centers to save on cost.
Let us simplify the reasons further in simpler terms. Adding cores is the fastest way to boost performance. Improving memory technology can add 5 to 10% to system performance, and updating the processor architecture might provide an additional 10% boost according to analysts. Doubling core density within a processor can instantly add 50% or more in performance without increasing the power envelope.
While, there is an overall high server deployment among MBs, what needs to be focused on are the latest technologies such as blades, virtualization and green IT where they can save a significant portion of their money in power and cooling while also increasing server utilization and reducing the TCO.
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