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Intel vs. AMD? HP vs. IBM?: Survey of x86 server buyers tells all

A survey of x86 server buyers reveals that they are less concerned about processors than they are about floor space, power and cooling, and consolidation via virtualization.

A recent survey of x86 server buyers by the Gabriel Consulting Group Inc. (GCG) indicates where users' loyalties lie when it comes to processors, their perceptions of infrastructure problems and ideas about green IT vendors.

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The survey by the Beaverton, Ore.-based GCG showed stronger consumer loyalty for Intel Corp. than for its rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD), though system purchases are often influenced by vendor brand and factors not processor related, according to the GCG survey. Survey results also indicated that the recent industry focus on going green isn't just hype; a solid majority of x86 data center personnel are highly concerned about energy consumption, cooling capacity and floor space. Gaining the greatest benefit from server virtualization also figured prominently into survey respondents' x86 server purchases.

Intel preferred over AMD
In the survey of 297 enterprise x86 server buyers who work with these systems on a daily basis, 45% described their data centers as "die-hard Intel" shops, but only 13% positioned themselves as "die-hard" AMD" fans. Less than 30% said that processor brand is the most important factor in the purchase of an x86 system, but of those, the majority of respondents strongly favored AMD.

Jim Burton, a vice president and senior analyst for entry-level servers Ideas International Inc. in Rye Brook, N.Y., said the results reflect Intel's growing leadership in the market with its introduction of quad-core processors.

You may see new 'data center cities' emerge where there is nothing but vacant land today.
Jim Burton,
VP and senior analystIdeas International Inc.

"With the loud marketing and technical advantages Intel now has, it does not surprise me that three times as many customers are Intel shops versus AMD shops. I would expect slightly more to be Intel shops than Gabriel found," Burton said.

Loyalty aside, 55% reported buying the best server/processor combination available, regardless of processor brand.

"I'm not surprised that many customers simply do not care whose chip is in the box. After all, these are industry-standard servers driven more by price [and] performance," Burton said.

Power, cooling and floor space
The survey also indicated the increasing importance of energy efficiency for survey respondents. More than 55% reported that their server purchases are "heavily influenced" by power, cooling and floor-space concerns. Nearly one-third of respondents said cooling capacity has become a major concern for them, and 30% of survey respondents reported that they lack electrical capacity.

Data center floor space is the most critical issue of all; 42% said they are "rapidly running out." Almost 65% of customers said that facilities concerns will become much more important in the future.

Deborah Grove of Redwood City, Calif.-based Grove Associates, a consulting firm focused on green IT, was pleased to see that infrastructure issues are more serious considerations today. "That means that the cultural divide between facilities and IT is thawing, and both sides are talking about the impact their decisions have on one another," Grove said.

Burton said these facility issues are strongest in areas that have a combination of high real estate and power costs, like Japan, California and New York City.

"During the past 20 years or so, most large companies located their corporate headquarters and data center facilities in the same complex, often in areas where real estate was very expensive," Burton said. "These companies are feeling the pain today, and others in midsized cities may join them in the very near future."

Burton expects to see increasingly more data centers detaching from corporate headquarters to areas with cheap power supplies, like the Pacific Northwest and Canada. "You may see new 'data center cities' emerge where there is nothing but vacant land today," he said.

Who's the greenest of them all?
In the GCG survey, customers rated Hewlett Packard Co. and IBM Corp. ahead of competitors in terms of how well their systems utilized energy and data center floor space.

HP notched a win for best utilization of server room floor space, with 25% of the vote. IBM grabbed second place, with 19%; Sun was third, at 16%; and Dell was fourth, at 12%. IBM and HP were tied at 22% for most thermal-efficient systems, and 23% of survey respondents rated HP x86 systems as most energy efficient, with IBM at 20%, Sun Microsystems at 19%, and Dell at 17% of the vote.

Respondents rated IBM highest in power monitoring and management, data center design, and advisory services. IBM was also rated as the vendor best able to improve facilities utilization in future products.

Illuminata Inc. analyst Gordon Haff said that the "greenest x86 vendor" survey results are likely related to perceptions, not actual environmental impact.

"IBM and HP are thought of as doing a lot of technical innovation in general, and the fact that they're market leaders makes them appear to be green leaders," Haff said.

But Grove said that HP and IBM should lead in green infrastructure initiatives because they have large budgets for acquiring emerging companies with new technologies as well as for alliance programs and marketing their environmentally friendly efforts.

"Vendors want to bring the most energy-efficient products to the marketplace and today they care about achieving that leading brand awareness. That is a significant change because energy efficiency wasn't on most purchasing managers' radar a few years ago," said Grove.

Big x86 servers on shopping lists
The survey also indicated that enterprise customers buying x86-based servers will purchase larger systems in the future, according GCG.

Almost half the survey participants indicated that they will buy "fewer" or "many fewer" single-socket servers. About 75% of respondents will maintain or increase purchases of multiprocessor servers; about 75% plan to purchase dual-socket systems in the near future and 72% say that quad-socket systems are in their near-term plans. And 64% indicate that in the near future they will purchase or are strongly considering x86 servers with more than four sockets.

The advance of x86 virtualization is a major reason that users are looking for larger servers. When customers virtualize, GCG analyst Dan Olds said, they can reduce the cost and complexity of IT operations by eliminating small, underutilized systems, but they need larger systems to get the greatest benefit from virtualization.

Other factors driving the move toward bigger systems include the decreasing cost of multiprocessor servers and the increasing importance of the workloads running on x86 servers. As these applications grow, they need the headroom of larger servers, higher availability and the advanced management features generally found on larger systems, Olds reported.

Burton conceded, saying, "Everyone we talked to is consolidating industry-standard servers using  VMware Inc. and other virtualization software."

"We have heard from a number of IT managers that the goal is to consolidate approximately 40 servers onto a single virtualized server. This trend is heavily linked to the power, cooling and floor-space issues," Burton said. "Many IT managers see virtualization as the near-term solution to their power and cooling problems, and moving the data center to a lower-cost area as the long-term solution."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

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