One of the hangovers from the dot-com and Y2K eras is the sudden realization that you need to manage and administer an awful lot of equipment that was purchased during those frenetic buying days.
Server management and administration costs add up and usually end up being far pricier than the servers themselves. Analysts at market research firm International Data Corp. estimate that between 60% and 70% of the cost of a server over its life cycle is related to its administration.
One way IT administrators are looking to cut those costs is by using both virtualization and automation software. The ideas are not new, but some new technologies are generating a surge of interest in them.
Virtualization software puts multiple instances of software onto one server. Two examples of companies that provide virtualization technologies include VMware Inc. and Connectix Corp., among others. Automation software, from companies like Think Dynamics Inc., Racemi Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Terraspring, helps optimize applications on individual servers so customers get the most out of their hardware. Large vendors like IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. also have initiatives in the works.
The technologies are different, but they attack the same problem; all are aimed at finding ways to make the data center run more efficiently, said John Humphreys, a senior analyst at IDC, which is based in Framingham, Mass.
"When you talk to users about what [virtualization and automation software] might mean in terms of controlling and driving down the cost of administering their data center, they get it immediately," Humphreys said. "They say, 'this would help my IT administrators do more with less.'"
Large enterprise customers are starting to warm up to the technology. Recently, Merrill Lynch & Co. said it would save $2 million in hardware costs over five years on a desktop and server consolidation project by using software from VMware. And insurance giant UnumProvident Corp. is also trying to reduce its hardware population, said Randy Robinson, vice president of IT at the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based company.
Robinson said that his company is testing virtualization technology from two companies, Connectix for desktops and VMware for servers. UnumProvident tends to amass a large number of Windows servers in the course of developing new server-based applications that often require a slew of servers to support the environment.
For example, one application could easily call for a development server, a quality assurance server and a server for benchmarking and load testing -- not to mention a production server and a failover capability, which implies an additional server. Some applications also require an educational server.
"All of the servers add up," Robinson said. "We need a bare minimum of three and, occasionally, six or seven servers to support an application."
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