Though industry buzz doesn't always translate to market success, the last 12 months have brought several advances in hardware technology that will likely have a substantial impact on Windows shops in 2006.
Multi-core chip technology scored big in 2005 with the release of Xeon processors from Intel Corp. and Opteron processors from AMD Corp. Analysts believe dual-core chips will continue to fly high in the coming year.
"People are really looking at dual-core processors both for what they can accomplish with them and for the advantages dual-core offers in terms of cooling," said Kelly Quinn, an analyst with IDC, a Framingham, Mass. market research firm.
According to Intel's Web site, the company expects that 70% of its server chips and 85% of its desktop and notebook chips will be dual-core by the end of 2006. Rival chip maker AMD has equally ambitious plans for its technologies.
Continued push toward 64-bit servers
Microsoft has recently said that its next-generation server software, notably Exchange Server 12 and the R2 version of Longhorn Server due out in 2009, will only support 64-bit technology.
"Newer applications, to a degree, could force people to upgrade to new hardware, but it's going to vary," said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata Inc., in Nashua, N.H.
Haff said there is already 64-bit hardware on the market today, but how much of it makes it into the corporate enterprise in 2006 depends on the buying habits of IT administrators. He said he thinks they will likely hold off on purchases until Longhorn is released, because there is usually a three- to four-year buying cycle for servers.
VT and Pacifica chip technology
Virtualization technology, now simply called VT, and Pacifica are virtualization hardware technologies coming from Intel and AMD respectively in 2006. Processors with virtualization capabilities built in can divide PC and server tasks into separate jobs and allow multiple operating systems and applications to run simultaneously on one machine.
According to AMD, Pacifica will be built into its Opteron and Athlon 64-bit chips during the first half of 2006. In November, Intel released the first PC processors to provide hardware virtualization support. The company plans to make it available next year in its Xeon server and mobile processors.
But analysts think the technology is still too young for far-reaching impact. "It's still not clear how visible that will be," Haff said. "I don't think it will be pervasive in 2006."
While virtualization still has a long way to go before becoming mainstream, Haff said he thinks once it does catch on, it will be hot.
Vendors claim blade servers are the fastest growing segment of the server market. Indeed, a recent online survey by SearchWinSystems.com reveals users are interested. According to the survey of approximately 250 readers, 30% of respondents listed blade servers as a technology they want to learn more about while 12% plan to install them in their shops within the next 12 months. Analysts at IDC predict 25% of servers on the market will be blades by 2009.
Haff expects blades' impact on the market will continue to grow in 2006, with users increasingly investing in the compact boxes. Still, he does not think the growth will be tremendous and may not make much of an impact for several years.
This sentiment is echoed by a study released by TheInfoPro (TIP) Inc., a New York City research firm, earlier this year. TIP interviewed more than 70 IT professionals and found blades ranked near the middle on a list of several technologies that interest IT professionals. The study also revealed that 35% of administrators said blades are unnecessary, costly and an immature technology.
"Blades aren't the only option for users," said TIP's Bob Gill. Instead, he said, rack-mounted servers are still preferred when it comes to x86 servers. However, Gill said he does think blades have a bright future. He said the attitude among those with buying power may be that they are interested, but not now.