More than ever before, IT departments are being tasked with demands that can be considered as coming from opposite sides of the request spectrum. Often called “doing more with less”, the reality is that a fierce business environment and a struggling economy mean that IT departments need to provide a value-add in everything they do. This means that new technologies--even replacement technologies--have to prove themselves worthy of investment of both hard dollars and human capital.
Today, a confluence of new technologies is hitting the market that may be just what the CIO ordered. These new technologies fit extremely well with general equipment lifecycle replacement plans and leverage existing staff skills in ways that provide a mostly seamless transition to more powerful hardware.
First on the docket is the release of Intel’s Xeon E5-2600 eight-core processing behemoth. Along with this processor comes significant support for 10Gb Ethernet, which is quickly becoming a necessity in the data center. With the E5 processor, workload dynamics shift a bit, too. This processor class is designed with virtualization in mind and provides excellent performance for these kinds of workloads. With a high core count--eight in each processor--E5-based systems can do more than ever before.
Some traditional workloads, such as large-database, single-image applications, or applications with a large memory footprint, are better suited to other processor products as they don’t leverage the E5 improvements as much as floating-point and memory-bandwidth intensive workloads. As CIOs begin to consider replacement server hardware, they should look at systems that integrate the E5’s new advancements for this latter set of applications.
To this end, some vendors are taking their work on servers to a new level. For example, with many of the company’s generation 8 blade systems, HP is bringing a streamlined management and maintenance experience to the product line. With FlexibleLOM (LAN on Motherboard) capability, there is additional flexibility when it comes to changing long-term needs. With traditional systems, IT managers needed to make a number of upfront hardware procurement decisions, which became difficult to change to meet evolving needs. One such decision revolved around the choice of network adapters. You chose 1 Gb Ethernet or 10 Gb Ethernet, and 1 Gb often won out due to cost and lack of immediate need for 10 GbE. These embedded adapters could not be upgraded. To add 10 GbE capability in the future, a mezzanine or PCI slot needed to be populated, if it was possible at all.
With Flexible LOM technology in Gen 8 Proliant servers, administrators can upgrade in-place from 1 GbE to 10 GbE by swapping out the modular LOM component. HP has partnered with a number of networking partners--including Broadcom and Emulex--to provide hardware. HP Flexible LOMs are available for different fabrics, including Ethernet, Fiber Channel over Ethernet, and Infiniband.
The newest Flexible LOMs from HP also support I/O virtualization, which allows administrators to slice-and-dice a 10 GbE link into any number of 1 GbE links, which can enable a single 10 GbE link to serve all of the various needs of even the most complex virtual environments while still maintaining a best practices-based approach of logically separating network traffic types. Better yet, this management and network link division is achieved using the tools that administrators already use.
From the CIO’s perspective, these technologies can help organizations meet their ever-growing IT needs while not needing to increase resources dedicated to infrastructure, non-core IT services. Here are some of the ways that this is achieved:
- Ability to leverage existing skills = less cost. Perhaps the biggest challenge in deploying any new technology lies in training the staff to implement and manage these new technologies. By enabling management of new technologies using existing tools, IT staff can implement faster, easier, and with less overall cost. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that organizations can stop training staff, but makes it less necessary for minor generational changes.
- Increased workload size = more virtualized workloads. With such high core counts in the new E5 processors, larger workloads can be considered as viable candidates for virtualization. In fact, the E5 line is tuned against large, memory-intensive single-application workloads, making them well-suited to the varied, multi-application nature of virtualization. So, have you been avoiding virtualizing that big SQL Server? Consider it!
- Less cabling = focus on IT value-add, lower costs. With 10 GbE and IO virtualization, organizations can enjoy a 10-to-1 reduction in the amount of network cabling that is necessary for a server. This translates into less time necessary to spend on physical networking needs.
As these efforts scale, organizations can begin to reap significant ongoing benefits related to both money and time. Companies should start by testing some of the new capabilities in a test bed to determine an appropriate level of investment based on the measured performance of the new hardware. They should begin to discover where such investments can be made sooner rather than later and what kinds of tools may need to be put into place to supplement existing ones.
- Start testing now in a lab.
- Measure workload performance on new system to adequately size virtual hosts in preparation for larger workloads.
- Work to shift infrastructure costs to lower amounts in favor of direct business value-add.