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Eight tips to ensure your server technology supports your business growth
by Arif Mohamed
Servers are the workhorse of the modern business, and as IT demands increase, so your server technology needs to be able to grow and scale cost-effectively to meet future requirements. Here are eight key considerations when buying server technology to ensure your business growth will be supported.

1. Scalability The ability to scale up your server cost effectively, to reflect either growth in the business or increasing business demands on the IT infrastructure, is of primary concern to many IT professionals. Traditionally, organisations in all sectors have installed additional application servers as required, expanding their IT systems horizontally as they adopt new business software or databases, or add new departments, branch offices, or businesses. This method of scaling out the server infrastructure has certainly added more processing capacity. But at the same time, organisations have often found themselves loaded down with complex, sprawling IT landscapes as a result. In addition, IT management costs have increased while server utilisation rates have fallen. Meanwhile, mergers and acquisitions have added to the complexity, bringing in a range of hardware running different flavours of server operating systems and business applications. Consequently, over the past decade there was a move towards regaining control over the server infrastructure. Organisations in all industries opted to consolidate their out-of-control IT estates onto fewer, more powerful machines on the one hand, and blade servers on the other, with many enterprises doing both. Blade servers are stripped-down servers with a modular design, which minimise the use of physical space and energy and are hot-swappable meaning they can easily be added and removed from the rack. Blade enclosures, or chassis, can hold multiple servers which share power, cooling, networking, storage and other components. Blade servers function well when they are dedicated to single specific tasks such as web hosting, file sharing and cluster computing. But for many enterprise applications, higher capacity servers are more suitable for the simple reason that they can run multiple business applications on a single machine and offer greater processing power and, arguably, value for money. As a result, opting for a high-capacity server platform is an efficient way to support business growth because it can generally be scaled up easily by adding additional processors, memory, storage and other components. 2. Processing power The best server platforms will have room to grow, allowing you to add processors and processing capacity as your business expands. It is a good idea to consider systems that have multiple processors with multiple cores, and the ability to add more processing power when you need it. Todays high-capacity servers offer multiple processors, each with two, four, six or even eight cores, with each individual core being able to run up to four processing threads. As a result, an individual server could run two or three dozen tasks simultaneously, which means greater throughput.

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Machines can also come with redundant capacity, cores that can be switched on as required. This makes them ideal for future expansion. Choosing the right server infrastructure will enable you to scale up quickly to manage, for example, millions of data-intensive transactions, or analyse data in real time, feeding back speedy and tangible results to both the business and customers. 3. Security Security always comes up as a top concern for IT managers, and as the business expands it will remain a top priority. This is the case whether you are scaling up an enterprise server or scaling out the server infrastructure to cover multiple branch offices or new business ventures. Christian Christiansen, programme vice-president for IDCs security products and services group, says it is essential to scale up your security as the business grows, using a variety of technology and security policies and practices, although this often presents a challenge. As servers have proliferated throughout enterprise IT infrastructures, native server operating system security has proven to be insufficient. It does not provide adequate control over who can access what resources, nor does it provide the granular auditing needed to meet compliance requirements, he says. Because most enterprises have many different operating systems with many different embedded server access management utilities, building and maintaining common policies and controls, as required for compliance, is difficult to impossible. However, consolidating onto a new server platform can bring a fresh and uniform approach to security, along with new levels of security technology and security policy automation, and help the IT department to maintain control over server access across the operating environment. 4. Manageability All IT managers know that server management is a multi-faceted discipline. It encompasses patch management, business continuity planning and disaster recovery, proactive server and network monitoring, workload optimisation and balancing, component configuration, security and so on. Having the right server management and automation tools from the beginning can help to support business growth because it can anticipate extensions to and increasing demands on the IT system. These days, high-capacity servers come with very powerful automation and management tools, and there are also many mature third-party tools available. These tools offer more intelligent workload management, better redundancy control, automatic handling of processor failures, and updating of firmware during normal operations, among other things. Servers also offer granular energy management, for example power capping, which is an energy budgeting technique that prevents specific parts of the system from using too much power. Virtualisation technology brings further management and automation, with the ability to move virtual machines while they are still running, from server to server. 5. Speedy expansion On the subject of virtualisation, this technology is designed to support business growth because of its ability to scale up quickly as required. Virtualisation enables organisations to test and deploy new applications and technologies quickly and cost-effectively, providing adequate scalability with no practical limits on the number of processors, memory or I/O. Virtualisation also allows for dynamic reconfiguration, increasing and decreasing all resources as needed, and workloads can be moved between servers while active. James Staten, principal analyst at Forrester Research, says the way to decide if server virtualisation is what you need is to examine your current IT asset portfolio and determine if you are as efficient as you could be today, and if virtualisation can improve your efficiency. In general, Forrester has found that most organisations can benefit from some degree of virtualisation, as average server utilisation tends to be below 25%. And by consolidating the physical servers in your environment, you should be able to fund your virtualisation project by postponing future server purchases, reclaiming datacentre space, and lowering power and cooling costs, he says.

Because most enterprises have many different operating systems with many different embedded server access management utilities, building and maintaining common policies and controls, as required for compliance, is difficult to impossible.
Christian Christiansen, programme vice-president for IDCs security products and services group

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6. Green IT The spotlight has been on the power consumption of datacentres over the past couple of years, with industry regulations requiring organisations to cut their IT systems carbon footprints. Coupled with business expansion comes an increased use of energy within the enterprise, and there is a requirement on the IT department to ensure their systems are as environmentally friendly as possible. Of course, this is no mean feat, considering that enterprise servers require significant power and cooling resources to operate. However, server manufacturers have made great strides in the field of green technologies. Among these are energy-efficient uninterruptible power supplies, water cooling and more efficient fan technologies, plus more energy-efficient processors, networking technologies and hard drive arrays. Power management is more granular than ever before, and virtualisation has provided the ability to share computing resources among multiple applications, lowering the energy requirement. When buying new server technologies, these green IT features are becoming increasingly important and are well worth investigating. 7. Compliance As your business expands, so do your compliance requirements and server technologies can either help or hinder the process of meeting industry and government regulations. This depends upon whether your server estate is unwieldy and poorly managed, or well organised and automated. Choosing the right server platform can assist in meeting compliance targets by automating corporate policies across the system, implementing tracking tools, rules for data usage, storage and management, and business process management systems. Server tools and technologies can help growing businesses by taking on the responsibilities for compliance and ensuring targets are met. 8. Supplier roadmap The final tip, to make sure your server technology will support your business growth, is to ensure that your server supplier has a long-term investment in their server platform and a clear technology roadmap that you are happy with. This includes looking at the processor models that the server is based on, the storage and networking technologies that the machine uses, and its flexibility and expansion possibilities, as well as its support for the business applications that are vital to your business. It is important to choose a supplier that has a proven roadmap that matches the growth of your business, with server hardware that can be upgraded and expanded easily, and plenty of options for configuring components such as additional processors and disk arrays. Hardware and software support, migration tools and assistance, and server maintenance and management are also key areas of consideration when looking for a new platform that will support future growth.

Forrester has found that most organisations can benefit from some degree of virtualisation, as average server utilisation tends to be below 25%. And by consolidating the physical servers in your environment, you should be able to fund your virtualisation project by postponing future server purchases, reclaiming datacentre space, and lowering power and cooling costs
James Staten, principal analyst at Forrester Research

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