In this day and age, if an enterprise is not relying heavily for the majority of its business processes on IT equipment then it is certainly living in the dark ages--well, at least the early 1980s (and I am assuming most people would like to remember the '80s as the dark ages). Over the last six months or so, we have looked at a wide variety of products that cover what could be considered the periphery of the IT data centre. These software and hardware products cover areas like storage, security, and networking infrastructure. While they all have a place in an organisation, nothing beats the topic of this review, the heartbeat of the corporate data centre, the beast to end all beasts, high-end servers.
Sure, we have done Web servers and blade servers this year, and while these devices do have a vital role to play in the company, nothing is as mission-critical as the unit which processes the transactions, whether it's from a inventory database or, more importantly, employee payroll for the accounting department. These servers are key to the continuance of most large-scale businesses these days. This is succinctly summarised in this month's feature on disaster recovery solutions, comparing the reliance financial institutions place on data as compared to the retail sector. This reliance is evident enough with the recent spate of data centre replication projects taking place around the globe due largely this time to worldly unrest. I apologise for bringing this worldly unrest subject up again, but it must rate somewhere on Gartner's Hype Cycle--I am sure hoping it will shortly disappear into the trough of disillusionment.
High-end servers are also coming into their own more so now than ever before, with the advent of decent storage area networking (SAN) solutions incorporating multigigabit data transfer via fibre channel. The servers are able to offload a lot of the storage overheads previously associated with the drive arrays. They are able to get down to their primary role, which is processing data.
Only the first half
This review will be published in two parts. This first section is dedicated to the high-end machines that don't fit into the traditional midrange server market dominated by Microsoft with its server family of operating systems and Intel with its Xeon processors.
While Intel is still represented in this category, with a quad-processor Itanium 2 system, and both the AMD Opteron and Intel Itanium are running Microsoft server operating systems, the server we received from Sun runs Solaris on UltraSPARC processors, and the Apple runs OS X (Panther) on G5 processors.
The second section of this review, will be dedicated to the Intel Xeon-based machines running Microsoft server software and applications.
Because we received systems with a wide range of processors, it made sense to try and develop a methodology and run a basic test that could go someway to showing the relative performance of each unit. This task is not as easy as it seems, but with massive support from the vendors we were eventually able to get there and produce the results here.