Do microservers have a place in your datacenter?

Do microservers have a place in your datacenter?

Summary: Can microservers make the jump from hosting companies to corporate datacenters?

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There's been a lot of industry buzz this week over Dell's announcement of two new models of their microserver product, the Power Edge C5125 and C5220 and their potential impact on the datacenter. But are microservers something that you should be considering for your datacenter, or are they strictly for the large hosting vendors for whom they were originally developed?  The answer lies in the business demands on your datacenter.

Microservers were originally designed to inexpensively meet the needs of large hosting companies that wanted to be able to offer dedicated server hosting services at a reasonably low price. These servers were positioned as the next step up for customers that were currently using shared hosts, and the pricing model needed to not be one that had a sudden steep jump. Given that you can easily host full-feature websites with everything from blogging tools to full-featured ecommerce sites for $60-$200 a year, hardware to support dedicated hosting services at a competitive price was going to have to be very cost effective.

What we basically ended up with was the antithesis of what many consider the modern datacenter server; a low-power, purpose built piece of hardware designed to serve a single purpose and run a single iteration of an operating system. The new products from Dell both support virtualization, but that sort of defeats the purpose; if you plan on running virtualized environments, you might want to consider more capable hardware. Though there is an argument that running some form of virtualized environment hosting only a single operating system has some advantages when it comes to provisioning and disaster recovery.

The issue here, for many datacenter operators, is going to be the value of dense packed, low power single purpose servers versus large servers running an equivalent number of virtualized environments. As datacenter appliances take on the role of running specialized applications within the datacenter, will there be enough general purpose use for low-power servers filling in the nooks and crannies of the datacenter users server needs?

Topics: Storage, Data Centers, Hardware, Servers

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13 comments
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  • I like the idea of micro-servers...

    I like the idea of micro-servers over virtualization, you're no longer putting all your eggs in one basket.

    It is cheaper to have lots of slower computers than fewer faster computers. So setting up a bunch of cheaper, slower server to handle single services versus one expensive, faster server virtualizing services, I think is the better way to go.

    Should one of the micro-servers go down, you're not losing most of your other services along with it.
    olePigeon
    • RE: Do microservers have a place in your datacenter?

      @olePigeon

      But it's also that many more physical servers that need to be managed and maintained.

      Do you think that the potential uptime issues compared to a large virtualized environment are worth the extra IT management effort?
      David Chernicoff
      • With cheaper servers you can offer redundancy...

        With cheaper servers you can offer redundancy fairly effectively as well. In any event, whichever direction you take, you're gaining benefits and making sacrifices. It'll all boil down to whatever your datacenter prefers.

        It seems to me that for smaller organizations, specialized servers work well. For larger organizations, virtualization may be the way to go.
        olePigeon
      • Well, yes, clueless IT staff might have a problem. But, you would only

        manage one image across the different computers. Better to have somebody else manage your servers for you than trying to hire and keep people to do the job locally.
        DonnieBoy
      • RE: Do microservers have a place in your datacenter?

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    • At least for applications where latency is not an issue, or you can live

      with it given that you can run your work load on cheaper hardware that uses a lot less watts.
      DonnieBoy
    • RE: Do microservers have a place in your datacenter?

      @olePigeon
      Wow, I thought I was the only one that didn't buy the whole virtualization thing. Like you, I don't like putting all my eggs in one basket. I've had several companies talk to me about the benefits of virtualizing and they have valid points but when I ask them what happens when the server goes down, they have no answer.

      Bert
      riverab
      • If they can't answer the question...

        @riverab@... ..."what happens when the server goes down" then they know nothing about virtualization at all - because the answer is very simple. What happens when the server goes down is that the VM's automatically migrate to another server in the cluster. Everything keeps on running and users never notice.

        Basically anyone who can't answer that is probably some kid running a couple VM's in his basement.
        cornpie
      • RE: Do microservers have a place in your datacenter?

        Agreed with cornpie.

        @riverab: If a VM server goes down, the VMs on it come immediately back up, just on a different physical server (in a competently built farm, anyway). With HA features enabled, the customer would never know that the VM went down.

        Virtualization also makes maintenance and avoiding service downtime drop-easy... just roll the VMs off to a different box, take the original box down once it's empty, and do what you will with it.

        Of course, if you used a real enterprise-ready virtualization suite, you would have known that. (clue: Hyper-V is not quite there yet, and VirtualBox is for kids and code-monkeys).
        Random_Walk
  • RE: Do microservers have a place in your datacenter?

    I like them. I am all for virtualization, but sometimes you don't need them, and a microserver is more then capable of handling your needs. There is nothing wrong with having options. Some people like having the physical aspect of servers, and don't see it as a problem or a maintaining issue.
    Bates_
  • Don't forget disaster recovery.

    Besides the question of "what happens when the server goes down" you have to answer "what happens when the building burns down. If you have 40 micro-servers, when you implement your disaster recovery plan (you have one, right?) do you want to recover each of those micro-servers one at a time? Even if they are all the same image there would be a lot of configuring involved. What if the hardware available now is different from your image? With virtual machines, you are hardware agnostic so it doesn't matter as long as you can load whatever your preferred virtualization software is. Your VM's can then be restored directly and fully configured with just the need to restore the latest data backups.

    This isn't just for huge companies either. With hardware prices these days so cheap you just buy two servers. The ones we use run around $10k each for dual 6 core cpus and 64 GB of RAM. That's 12 cores per box x 2 or 24 total. Just a few years ago, to get a similar core count you would have needed to buy twelve boxes at up to $50K each and you still wouldn't have the processing power of the current machines. What I'm getting at is that even small shops can have a fully redundant setup with full automatic failover capabilities for less than we would have spent on a single server a few years ago.

    So personally I think the fears surrounding virtualization are overblown and the whole microserver idea is a solution looking for a problem. In today's world, a virtual machine is your micro-server - no need for hardware.
    cornpie
  • All eggs in on basket

    there are several comments here about what happens if the virtualisation server goes down? Easy answer here is to use an X86 fault tolerant server. I know its more expensive but it IS the insurance policy if you want to virtualize.
    andy.bailey
  • RE: Do microservers have a place in your datacenter?

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