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Various paths define server roadmap in 2013

It's hard to name a single server trend when new servers take several -- sometimes conflicting -- paths. Find out what defined the server in 2013.

There was no clear server roadmap in 2013. Instead, paths led to commodity hardware, converged infrastructures, intelligent processors and onboard SSDs.

So which new server technology route is best for your data center? You could invest in a package of blade servers with storage and networking and associated hardware into a converged infrastructure product. Or you could upgrade to feature-rich servers with the latest in security and management options with embedded SSDs. There’s also the opposite route: scaled-back features for a bare-bones, failure-hardy server deployment. Or maybe you’re exiting the server management scene and putting your workloads on the runway to a cloud platform.

The hyperscale trend

Enterprise data centers are taking cues from the biggest names in IT, such as Amazon, Facebook and Google. No matter how many server racks they have, data center managers can operate like a hyperscale company by customizing new servers so they include everything they want, and nothing that they don't need. They are also homogenizing servers to reduce management. Expect this trend to grow as Web-scale IT providers get more involved in the design of data centers and hardware.

What's the benefit? Better performance from your servers, more automation and potentially lower costs from cutting out wasted on-server features and third-party management tools.

Scaling out is in

Data centers are gaining cloud elements, on the path from near-100% virtualization, private or hybrid cloud. Increasingly, data center managers are using Wintel server hardware to underpin these cloud and cloud-ready environments. There is still a place for proprietary, scale-up servers, but in niche uses.

It's not all speeds and feeds

Server processors have come a long way in the speeds-and-feeds category. With only incremental clock speed improvements from one generation to the next, server vendors like Intel are now developing smarter processor features. A slightly faster processor with higher efficiency will handle workloads significantly better than the previous generation chip, and a processor with higher security and reliability will bring peace of mind.

More SSDs, please

New server technology isn't only about the processor. At the Gartner Data Center conference in late 2013, one data center administrator called on-server flash with SanDisk FlashSoft the "turbo switch" that solved a lot of caching issues for his storage-area network. Also in 2013, Cisco purchased Whiptail Technologies Inc. to add an integrated solid-state storage feature to UCS blade servers.

Server prospects muddled by cloud era, CI rise and resilient mainframe

Another way to define server technology in 2013 is by what it isn't. While sales of data center servers were on the rise, the importance of a server may be dwindling. Virtualization means fewer servers to support the same workloads, while cloud hosting means perhaps not owning any servers at all. Data center equipment vendors are encapsulating server compute into packages of converged infrastructure with networking, storage, management and virtualization all optimized in one bundle.

And what's that familiar cry from the back of the data center? With their small footprint and facilities requirements, impressive power and simple operations, mainframes are challenging servers for data center supremacy again.

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