Server battle 2014 pits Cisco vs. Dell vs. HP

IT professionals are looking to transition to the new style of IT computing. Are the latest servers from HP, Dell and Cisco the answer?

Hoping to break the bonds of their legacy architectures, a number of top-tier server hardware companies have introduced new systems intended to help enterprises adapt to the new style of data center computing.

Whether any of the recent servers made by Cisco, HP or Dell allow IT to transition successfully, however remains to be seen.

That new style of computing revolves around a corporate customers' need to quickly and efficiently produce Web-based applications and services coupled with server hardware that scales those offerings cost effectively. These servers also must handle the fire hose of information generated by the big data and, increasingly, fast data generated by on-premises and mobile users.

Some IT pros say server hardware companies have yet to deliver such systems.

"It's not like we are asking them [server hardware manufacturers] to deliver a cure for cancer that costs $1 and tastes like chocolate," said one IT professional with a large Minnesota-based manufacturing company. "...eventually we will need some of these capabilities in systems that can help us bridge the old and new worlds of computing."

This has not stopped manufacturers from trying to deliver such medicinal cures, nor users from buying them. Vendor revenues in the overall worldwide server market rose 3.9% to $12.7 billion in this year's second quarter, according to a recent report from IDC. Server shipments were up 1.2% compared to last's year's second quarter. Higher-end enterprise systems however, dove 9.8% primarily because of year over year comparison.

"The server market is at the beginning of a cyclical refresh as systems deployed shortly after the financial crisis are retired and replaced," said Matt Eastwood, an analyst at IDC.

The upcoming Grantley Xeon chips from Intel and Microsoft's plans to end technical support for Windows Server 2003 should continue pushing server sales higher in 2015, Eastwood noted.

"We are also seeing early investments in third platform workloads that leverage Web-scale architectures," Eastwood said. "It's these workloads that will drive more interest in software-defined environments and create more demand for the kinds of [servers] that will be the underpinning for the next-generation data centers."

Cisco's aggressive UCS move

Cisco launched a number of systems to carry its unified computing systems (UCS) series to IT shops from small to very large. The company's UCS M-Series Modular Server is built for cloud-scale applications and services, its UCS Mini for small-scale and enterprise-edge computing, speedier, beefed versions of its UCS Rack and Blade Servers to run enterprise-class applications faster and new versions of UCS Director for managing big data workloads.

The servers further extend Cisco's overarching strategy to deliver application-centric infrastructure that is more adept at helping IT shops cope with some of the rapid technology transitions of today. Cisco also addressed the computing needs that exist both in the heart of the data center and that live out on the edges of it.

Pricing for the UCS M-Series Modular Servers is $263,832 for an 80-node deployment and $3,298 for a single node. The UCS Mini pricing starts at $19,680, while the UCS C3160 costs $35,396 for a model with two processors and 128 gigabytes of memory.

HP and Dell's need for speed

HP's new ProLiant Gen9 lineup spans four architectures including blade, rack, tower and scale-out and touts triple the compute capacity compared with its predecessors. Primarily designed for convergence and software-defined corporate IT environments, the servers include new technology components, such as PCIe accelerators and HP's Smart Memory, which increases storage and networking.

The Gen9 servers are available this week with pricing based on the model and the individual configuration users choose.

Dell rolled out its Dell Power Edge 13th Generation Servers with new software-defined storage technology it claims can deliver 11 times the application performance. The new lineup features the first hybrid storage server to use the 1.8-in. flash drives as well as 3.5-in. SATA drives. Similar to HP, the 13th Generation Servers come in multiple form factors including blade, rack and tower configurations.

Entry-level pricing for Dell's PowerEdge servers starts at $299 for the tower configuration, $569 for the rack version, and $1,239 for the blade server model.

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