On common ground
By Tara Swords (October 2002)
What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago, proprietary minicomputers dominated the enterprise data center, looking more like small apartment buildings than like servers. Today, many companies are replacing closed systems with standardized servers and storage to streamline scaling and deployment, as well as decrease hardware, integration, and management expenses.
Out with the old
The high cost of proprietary systems is a hard pill to swallow for a company in the midst of budget cutbacks. Not only are closed systems expensive to acquire and support, but they also require specialized, high-priced IT staff. In addition, an inflexible IT infrastructure creates barriers to technological change, making it difficult for a company to survive in a competitive and fast-evolving marketplace.
Standardized systems provide much-needed flexibility and cost relief. Consistent hardware and software facilitate electronic communication and data sharing among partners, suppliers, and customers, and give companies the agility to quickly embrace changes in technology and market conditions. On the cost side, the broad range of open systems suppliers creates choice and healthy price competition for enterprises.
Ubiquitous, standardized components also help manufacturers reduce development costs and pass those savings along to customers. The IT market sees standardized servers offering value today and tomorrow, as it witnesses annual price declines continuing to range between 35 and 50 percent.1 Lower hardware costs, however, are just the beginning.
A savings bonanza
Standard architectures contribute to expense reductions throughout the IT life cycle. First, they allow enterprises to consolidate computing tasks on fewer devices, decreasing data center costs and complexity. Then, the benefits ripple throughout the data center: Reducing equipment not only decreases power, cabling, and management costs, but it also frees up precious floor space for future data center expansion without any additional capital outlay. As standards-based devices improve with faster chip architectures and enhanced connectivity, the overall cost of computing will continue to drop over time.
The widespread availability of standards-compliant software, hardware, services, and standards-savvy technical personnel, also allows enterprises to roll out new applications faster and use fewer staff. Furthermore, open systems require less IT specialization and training, making it easier and more cost-effective to recruit and hire qualified workers.
Standardization also empowers enterprises to negotiate Favourable deals with vendors. Open systems encourage the entry of new suppliers, driving differentiation away from features and functions and placing pressure on incumbent vendors to decrease prices and add value. This heightened competition empowers enterprises to select best-of-breed products without being locked into any one vendor.
In addition, standard systems give enterprises more opportunities to cut costs through outsourcing. Off-loading routine IT tasks allows companies to reduce IT headcount and concentrate on enhancing their core businesses. Standardization promotes an increase in the number of outsourcing vendors capable of meeting service level agreements, leading to more competition and more-Favourable contracts.
Easy to scale, easy to manage
Apart from cost, improved reliability, scalability, and ease of management are potential benefits of utilizing common platforms. Server standardization, for example, enables IT departments to diversify workloads among server appliances, database servers, and general-purpose servers. This load-balanced approach facilitates quick expansion as business requirements grow. In most instances, scaling for extra capacity can be as easy as sliding a server or hard drive into a rack.
Redundant configurations also help IT departments meet business requirements for high availability. Should one server fail, for example, a functional one assumes the added workload without any downtime or data loss.
In addition, server and storage redundancy can greatly reduce management complexity. In a network attached storage (NAS) configuration, for example, IT personnel can administer enterprise-wide storage operations from a single console. This increased manageability not only improves worker productivity, but it also reduces the skill set required to manage business-critical systems. As a result, companies can more easily find reasonably priced IT talent and further reduce total cost of ownership.
Let the juggernaut commence
The adoption of standards-based systems is gaining worldwide momentum. Open systems have become well entrenched in data centers and at the edge of corporate networks as Web servers, firewalls, and high-performance clusters. According to IDC, an industry research and analysis firm, Intel® architecture servers comprised 88 percent of worldwide server purchases in 2001.2
To date, manufacturers have sold standardized servers into what IDC calls the entry-level server category—those costing less than $100,000. Many of these standardized servers, however, have the functionality previously found in midrange to high-end servers costing more than $100,000.
"Standardization is an inevitable fact of life in our industry," says John Gantz, an IDC analyst. "We believe the trend toward more widespread adoption of standard server and storage architectures is inexorable, paralleling similar standardization adoption experiences in IT over the past 40 years."3
Dell leading the way
The DellTM approach to enterprise computing addresses the rising demands of today's companies. These demands include data center consolidation around standard servers and storage; rapid, cost-effective IT deployment; simplified systems management; and reliable and scalable infrastructure, all of which help improve return on investment.
Dell continues to drive the industry toward technologies that facilitate migration to open standards, such as Linux® and Microsoft® Windows® operating systems. Dell is also building a complete portfolio of products, services, and tools to drive server and storage consolidation on standard Intel architecture systems—including innovative server blades and modular, rack-optimized servers. On the storage side, Dell is building a strong presence in the NAS and storage area networking (SAN) markets with flexible, standards-based solutions that easily integrate into existing enterprise environments.
Value-added services are also central to the Dell enterprise computing strategy. Dell Professional Services helps to ease the transition from proprietary systems to standardized architectures. In addition, the company provides managed services, such as availability and performance monitoring, to help enterprises ensure the ongoing reliability of day-to-day infrastructure operations.
Staying lean and mean
Doing more with less is a common theme in today's difficult economy. That is why standards-based systems continue to permeate the enterprise data center, reclaiming the turf once held by inefficient proprietary devices. As a result, companies can exorcise the costs and complexities that once haunted them, and re-focus their energies on increasing competitiveness and profits.
About the author: Tara Swords is the managing editor for Dell Insight.