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Blades, Windows rank as practical choices in IT shops

A TIP study shows that IT managers are practical when it comes to using blades and picking server operating systems.

Blade servers have made huge inroads into IT shops while Microsoft Windows continues to expand its territory, said a study released this week that measures server trends over the past year.

More than 85% of IT managers surveyed in the past few months reported that blade servers are "valuable" or "critical" to their long-term server plans, according to data from The Server Study conducted by TheInfoPro (TIP), a New York-based research firm. TIP conducted more than 130 interviews with IT professionals at Fortune 1000 companies for the year-long study.

"The number of people who are skeptical about blades has dried up dramatically," said Bob Gill, chief research officer at TIP. At the end of 2005, 6% of IT professionals surveyed said they had no interest in blades while another 8% reported they were skeptical. The most recent survey data, collected the summer of 2006, shows that these negative responses have dropped to zero, Gill said.

The marching orders within enterprises are to cut costs through consolidation and virtualization.
Bob Gill, chief research officer, TheInfoPro,

The reason for the change of heart is that IT managers are focusing less on the complex functions of blades, such as dynamic provisioning. Instead, they're using them to satisfy simpler and more practical needs such as space consolidation, he said.

Practicality is the same reason that IT managers are sticking with Microsoft Windows as their operating system of choice.

"The perception is that Linux is eating away at the Microsoft Windows installed base," Gill said. "Not only is Microsoft the dominant installed base, but it's still growing at an accelerated rate," he said.

And with 67% of enterprise servers running Windows, the OS shows no signs of giving up any ground, Gill said. The latest study results, in summer 2006, reported that 20% of servers run Unix, while 9% run Linux. Four percent of servers run other operating systems such as Mac OS.

"Application choice is driving buying decisions," Gill said.

Scott Saunders, director of MIS at ION Media Networks Inc. in West Palm Beach, Fla., said he has 100 Windows servers and only three Linux servers, where he uses Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. for firewall protection. "We'll be replacing older hardware this year, and they'll be Windows," he said.

It's all about the applications, Saunders said. "What are you going to run on Linux -- maybe Web hosting," he said. "Linux doesn't offer us anything."

Saunders said he does see some advantages in blade servers. "Consolidation is one thing we can do that has some effect on the bottom line," he said. "By going from six racks to three or four racks, we can pack a lot of power into a smaller space."

Consolidation and virtualization rank first and second, respectively, among server priorities this year, according to the TIP server study. A growing number of IT managers interviewed said they had plans to virtualize using blade servers, Gill said. "The marching orders within enterprises are to cut costs through consolidation and virtualization," he said.

As for the virtues of blade servers in virtualization, however, Saunders still needs some convincing. And though he is one of a dwindling minority, he is not alone.

Twenty-five percent of IT professionals interviewed about virtualization and blade servers at the end of 2005 cited little or no cost benefits as a major inhibitor to blade deployment. Many pointed to acquisition costs without factoring in lowered operational costs, Gill said. In the latest data collected, the percentage dropped to less than 10%, he said.

For Saunders, however, blades have not yet made a compelling case for virtualization. "It might be the hip thing right now," Saunders said, "but it still requires a large capital investment and a gigantic piece of hardware."

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