IBM eServer BladeCenterVendorIBM Product typeRack-mount blade serversPerformance profile Scalable to 4-way SMP, with 8-way and above available in other product familiesFunctionality profileChoice of AMD, IBM POWER or Intel processors.

IBM eServer BladeCenter
Vendor IBM
Product type Rack-mount blade servers
Performance profile Scalable to 4-way SMP, with 8-way and above available in other product families
Functionality profile Choice of AMD, IBM POWER or Intel processors. Good range of RAS options, storage modules and redundant switch modules for Fibre Channel and Ethernet connectivity
Usability profile Blade server technology in itself makes for ease of deployment, with a good range of management tools available to handle both the hardware and software that makes up a BladeCenter solution
Price From £1,812 for 14-slot BladeCenter chassis; 2-way Intel-based blades start at £1,084, 2-way Opteron- and POWER-based blades start at £1,469

The IBM BladeCenter solution includes a choice of chassis products for both commercial and large-scale telecommunications deployment. You can then pick from an even wider range of server blades with AMD, Intel and IBM POWER processors, plus storage modules and both Ethernet and Fibre Channel switch modules.

High-availability options such as redundant power supplies and cooling can be built into the BladeCenter chassis, and there’s built-in redundancy at the server level with 14 blade slots on the standard 7U BladeCenter chassis.

The blades themselves can have up to four Intel processors, with support for up to 16GB of memory per server on the larger Intel products plus up to 293GB of onboard hard disk storage. The 2-way PowerPC-based blades can accommodate up to 4GB of memory and can be configured in the same chassis alongside the Intel-based products.

A range of server hardware and cross-platform software management products is available from IBM, including automated provisioning software.

HP ProLiant DL Servers
Vendor Hewlett-Packard
Product type Industry standard rack-mount servers
Performance profile Up to 8-way SMP with a choice of 32-bit and 64-bit processors and plenty of RAM for memory-intensive applications
Functionality profile Can be used to host a range of operating system and application software
Usability profile Not as flexible or quick to deploy as blade alternatives, but intelligent tool-free design makes for ease of maintenance; you also get a good choice of local and remote management options
Price Price depends on exact model and configuration: from around £700 for the 1U ProLiant DL320, to £5,000 plus for the 8-way ProLiant DL760

DL stands for 'Dense-Line', and there's a wide range of rack-mount servers in the ProLiant DL family. The tiny 1U DL320 has just one Pentium 4 processor, while the 8-way Intel Xeon based DL760 is a 7U device. Other 2-way and 4-way products can also be specified with a choice of both Intel and AMD processors, up to 64GB of ECC memory, Gigabit Ethernet connectivity and RAID-protected storage.

HP is renowned for its build quality, and it also offers a range of high-availability options such as redundant power supplies and fans. Integrated lights-out remote management also comes as standard on all DL models, with HP’s own Insight Manager software another option bundled with every system.

The smaller models in the DL range are designed mainly for Web-server front ends and distributed file and print applications. For larger infrastructure simplification projects, the bigger rack-mount products, with four or more processors and additional memory space, are the ones to go for. HP is also a leading vendor of blade servers with its ProLiant BL family.

Other servers

Vendor Highlights Blades Rack-mount 64-bit

Evesham Technology Smaller UK-based company, mainly selling Intel-based servers to the SME market no yes yes
Dell Computer One of the top server vendors worldwide, with an extensive range of Intel-based solutions for companies of all sizes yes yes yes
Fujitsu Siemens Another of the top-tier vendors, with a highly scalable range of Intel-based rack-mount and blade servers yes yes yes
Sun Microsystems Sun mainly sells its own UltraSPARC IV-based servers running the Solaris OS, but recently added x86 servers and Linux to its line-up yes yes yes
Supermicro Best known as a motherboard vendor, Supermicro also sells a range of Intel-based rack servers with up to four processors no yes yes
Tatung Based in Taiwan, Tatung sells Intel- and AMD-based rack-mount and blade servers throughout Europe yes yes yes

Dell PowerEdge 7250
Vendor Dell Computer
Product type 64-bit Itanium 2 rack-mount server
Performance profile Very scalable solution, although a 64-bit operating system and applications ported to Itanium 2 are required for maximum performance and 32-bit software may run slower
Functionality profile Large-format processors require a lot of space, so there's limited storage on this server, but it has a good basic specification and plenty of scope for expansion
Usability profile No harder to deploy and manage than a 32-bit server, with all the usual Dell OpenManage tools available for both local and remote management
Price From £7,499 (one processor + 2GB RAM). With four processors and 32GB of memory prices start at £24,269

Direct vendor Dell includes both rack-mount and blade servers in its PowerEdge line-up, all with Intel processors and including 64-bit EPIC-based Itanium 2 models. A typical Itanium 2 product, the Dell PowerEdge 7250 is 4U rack-mount server that can be configured with up to four processors and 32GB of supporting memory.

Internal storage is limited to three 73GB disks, but hot-plug PCI-X slots and integrated Gigabit Ethernet connectivity allow for easy connection to external storage or a SAN.

Redundant power supplies and fans come as standard and varying levels of remote management can be specified, along with factory installation of 64-bit implementations of Windows Server 2003 or Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Applications need to be ported to run on the Itanium 2, but the major Microsoft products are all certified for use with the PowerEdge 7250, which is a cost-effective platform for larger consolidation projects.

Sun Fire V40z
Vendor Sun Microsystems
Product type 32/64-bit Opteron rack-mount server
Performance profile A very scalable solution that will run 32-bit applications as fast as on a dedicated 32-bit platform; a simple upgrade to a 64-bit OS and applications gives greater throughput, while dual-core processors raise the performance bar still higher
Functionality profile Although it's from the Sun stable, the V40z is an industry standard server solution, with industry standard expansion capabilities
Usability profile Sun's Solaris OS won’t run Windows applications, but it's well supported and widely used in the SME and larger corporate markets; Solaris 10 also promises native Linux compatibility
Price From £4,150 (two Opteron 844 processors, 2GB RAM); prices start at £10,400 with four processors and 8GB of memory

Sun Microsystems uses its own 64-bit UltraSPARC processors to drive its mid-range Sun Fire servers. But the company has also added Opteron-based servers to its line-up, and the Sun Fire V40z is typical of such offerings. It's aimed at smaller companies looking for an industry-standard infrastructure simplification solution.

A 3U rack-mount server, the V40z offers 4-way SMP using single-core or dual-core AMD64 Opteron processors, which are able to run 32-bit as well as 64-bit applications with no performance hit. Up to 32GB of memory can be specified, and there’s space for six Ultra320 SCSI disks inside the chassis.

Redundant power supplies and fans are fitted as standard, with lights-out local and remote management options available. The preferred operating system is Sun’s 64-bit Solaris 10, which as well as running applications written specifically for the Sun OS can also host native Linux applications and has built-in virtualisation facilities.

Other 64-bit solutions

Vendor Highlights Intel Itanium 2 AMD Opteron Intel Xeon EM64T Other

Fujitsu Siemens 64-bit Intel-based industry standard solutions yes no yes
HP Extensive range of 64-bit servers with choice of processor technologies yes yes yes PA-RISC
IBM IBM's xSeries supports both Xeon and Itanium 2; other 64-bit technologies are available, too, as well as dual-core processors yes yes yes IBM POWER
Supermicro Surprisingly extensive range of 64-bit servers from this US motherboard vendor yes no yes
Tatung Choice of 64-bit Intel and AMD-based rack-mount and blade servers no yes yes

Vendor EMC
Product type Storage Area Networking (SAN) solution
Performance profile Storage performance can be matched to customer requirements with a wide choice of disk technologies and spin speeds, SAN interfaces and controller specifications
Functionality profile Choice of Fibre Channel or iSCSI SAN solutions with RAID protection, snapshot and disaster recovery options
Usability profile Wizard-driven installation and bundled management software makes deployment easier, although some familiarity with iSCSI and SAN concepts in general is required
Price From £3,632 for CLARiiON AX100i with 473 GB of disk space

EMC is a well-respected name in the storage market, with products to suit a range of customers and applications. The company's CLARiiON range is particularly suited to SME infrastructure consolidation projects, with both Fibre Channel and newer iSCSI implementations available.

The iSCSI range starts off with the 2U CLARiiON AX100i, which can accommodate up to 12 Serial ATA (SATA) disks giving capacities of 480GB (or 3TB per array). RAID 5 protection and battery-backed cache come as standard, and the AX100i array can be shared by up to 8 iSCSI host servers. These currently need to be running Microsoft Windows, although support for Linux and other platforms is available on the equivalent Fibre Channel version.

Higher up the scale, the CX300 models can be configured with up to 13TB of storage and 64 hosts, with even more on the CX500, plus a choice of disk and RAID configurations.

Management software with built-in virtualisation and snapshot facilities is bundled with all the CLARiiON products, and other management tools are available. EMC also sells Fibre Channel infrastructure products and NAS servers.

Snap Server 4500
Vendor Adaptec
Product type Network Attached Storage (NAS) appliance
Performance profile SnapOS-optimised for speed, plus you get dual Gigabit Ethernet ports and fast SATA drives for maximum throughput. However, storage is shared over the LAN and a dedicated SAN will give consistently better results
Functionality profile Offers wide cross-platform support and can also be deployed as an iSCSI target
Usability profile Very little effort is required for basic setup, with a browser-based management interface and simple point-and-click networking options
Price From around £2,500 depending on configuration options

Along with iSCSI SAN adapters and storage products, Adaptec sells a range of NAS appliances under its Snap Server brand. Like all such appliances, Snap Servers comprise hard disk storage along with an integrated server. These components allow access to storage using ordinary file-sharing protocols over an Ethernet LAN.

However, unlike other products that use Windows or Linux, Snap Servers have their own custom operating system, SnapOS, that can support file sharing in mixed network environments.

The iSCSI range starts off with the 2U CLARiiON AX100i, which can accommodate up to 12 Serial ATA (SATA) disks giving capacities of 480GB (or 3TB per array). RAID 5 protection and battery-backed cache come as standard, and the AX100i array can be shared by up to 8 iSCSI host servers. These currently need to be running Microsoft Windows, although support for Linux and other platforms is available on the equivalent Fibre Channel version.

The Snap Server 4500 is a typical mid-range NAS appliance. Housed in a 1U rack-mount case, it can accommodate up to 1.6TB of disk space internally and 13.6TB via external expansion units. The disk are all hot-swappable, with customisable hardware RAID protection and other redundancy options built-in.

Windows SMB/CIFS file sharing is supported as standard, along with NFS for Linux/Unix networks, AppleShare, FTP and HTTP/S. Another plus is the ability to deploy the Snap Server 4500 as a storage target on an iSCSI SAN. However, no special setup is needed, and the browser-based management makes for easy deployment, with SNMP support if required.

An Ultra2 SCSI port allows for local backup, and you also get a snapshot facility and Windows-based backup software.

Other network storage solutions

Vendor Highlights SAN NAS

Dell Computer Direct vendor Dell has partnered with EMC to offer SAN solutions alongside its own range of PowerVault NAS servers and direct attached storage products yes yes
Fujitsu Siemens Fujitsu-Siemens sells a range of SAN/NAS products in partnership with specialist vendor Network Appliance yes yes
HP HP has recently revamped and expanded its already extensive family of StorageWorks products with new SAN and NAS solutions, along with enhanced management software yes yes
IBM IBM TotalStorage is a comprehensive family of direct-attached, NAS and SAN storage hardware supported by Tivoli storage management software tools yes yes
Network Appliance Network Appliance sells a range of hardware solutions for SAN/NAS deployments, as well as storage virtualisation and management software yes yes
Sun Microsystems Sun recently acquired specialist vendor StorageTek to further expand its portfolio of storage hardware/software products yes yes

VMware GSX Server
Vendor VMware (a division of EMC)
Product type Server virtualisation
IT requirements Host operating system can be either Windows 2000 or above, or a Linux implementation such as Red Hat or SuSE Linux
Functionality profile Supports a range of guest environments, including most versions of Windows and popular Linux/Unix implementations; useful VM cloning and migration tools plus VM snapshot facilities; supports up to 64 active virtual machines
Usability profile Easy to use management tools make it possible to deploy new servers very quickly and re-size resources without powering down; nice remote console utility plus compatibility with other VMware virtualisation and management tools
Price From £875 for a 1-2 processor server

The recognised leader in the virtualisation market, VMware sells a number of products including a developer solution (VMware Workstation) and ESX Server for high-end production deployment with no host operating system required. GSX Server is the company’s popular mid-range solution, much used for server consolidation, which can be run on either a Windows or a Linux host.

Virtual machines are easy to configure and manage with GSX Server, with facilities to copy and clone existing implementations for fast provisioning. A snapshot tool can be used to take point-in-time copies of machine environments, which is useful for backups. You also get extensive virtual storage and networking options, and there's a neat remote console utility based on open-source VNC software.

Guest operating systems can be Windows or Linux, and there's also support for Novell NetWare and Solaris. The latest release adds support for 64-bit extensions on AMD Opteron and Intel Xeon EM64T processors and for 64-bit software.

Microsoft Virtual Server 2005
Vendor Microsoft
Product type Server virtualisation
IT requirements Windows Server 2003 is required as the host operating system (XP can be used for non-production testing); guests can be Windows NT Server, Windows 2000, XP or Server 2003
Functionality profile Solid virtual machine environment with 64-bit support in the latest service pack, but limited to one processor per VM and Windows only
Usability profile Simple installation and setup of virtual machines, networks and storage resources; quick deployment of new virtual servers plus useful disaster recovery features
Price Standard Edition £340, Enterprise Edition £680

As with the majority of Microsoft products, Virtual Server 2005 is designed primarily for use with Windows. It runs as a Windows Server 2003 application adding support for up to 64 virtual machines, each with up to 3.6GB of memory. In theory, these can run any x86 compatible software, including Linux, although the only supported products are (of course) Windows operating systems and application software.

Virtual machines are straightforward to configure and very usable. Indeed, more or less anything that can be done from the guest OS is possible in a virtual machine, including domain hosting and server clustering. You also get full integration with Microsoft’s Systems Management Server 2003, and Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM).

Developers looking to test applications are the primary market for Virtual Server 2005, but with a free migration toolkit available Microsoft is also targeting the server consolidation and legacy migration markets. However, Virtual Server 2005 still has some way to go to catch up with VMware and its cross-platform GSX Server product.

Other virtualisation solutions

Product Highlights Host OS Guest OS

Solaris 10 Built-in container facility for virtual server partitioning Solaris 10 Solaris/Linux
User-mode Linux Open Source application that allows Linux to host multiple virtual machines (bundled with SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9) Linux Linux

IBM Tivoli
Vendor IBM
Product type Network and systems management framework
IT requirements As well as support for industry-standard platforms running Windows and Linux, Tivoli software can be used with IBM iSeries and zSeries platforms and other systems running Solaris, HP-UX and other UNIX implementations
Functionality profile Full end-to-end management of the network, desktop and server hardware and software, business applications and processes, user access and security
Usability profile Straightforward to use once installed, but can be complex to set up and configure initially
Price The price depends on the modules deployed, the number of clients and licensing arrangements, but typically it's a significant investment

Like most of the larger management frameworks, there’s no single Tivoli product. Rather it consists of a diverse and extensible suite of tools that can be deployed, as required, to monitor and manage not just the network infrastructure, but also servers, desktops, applications and processes running over it.

As well as the Tivoli framework, for example, there are monitoring tools for servers running Windows, Linux and Unix plus others for a range of applications such as Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes/Domino and a variety of databases. You can also get software to handle software distribution and server provisioning, manage access security and monitor and manage network storage.

Tivoli can integrate with other management platforms and third party add-ons are also available. Recently, too, a Change and Configuration Management Database has been added for compliance with recommendations from the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL).

Exactly what you need to buy and how much it will cost depends on individual circumstances. As with all of the larger management tools, there can be a lot of setup work to do. However, both IBM and its reseller network provide plenty of help.

Microsoft Operations Manager 2005
Vendor Microsoft
Product type Server monitoring and management
IT requirements Windows Server 2000 or above for management server, with SQL Server 2000 or above to host the MOM database (MSDE can be used on small-scale deployments); monitored servers require Windows 2000 or later
Functionality profile Focuses on server/application management rather than the network as a whole and is Microsoft focused; third-party management packs are available, as well as a connector to communicate with other management platforms
Usability profile Built-in rules in the management packs help simplify use, along with much-revised management consoles in the latest MOM 2005 release
Price From £311 for the 10-server Workgroup Edition

The latest release of Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM 2005) extends the basic facilities of the previous release to monitor and consolidate events reported by remote Windows servers. New Web-based administrator and operator consoles are easier to use, and there are extensions to the various management packs that add application-specific rules to handle problems on a variety of Microsoft applications.

As well as consolidating and reporting events, MOM 2005 management packs also include scripts to actively resolve problems, either in response to an alert or under manual operator control.

MOM 2005 can be deployed agent-less, collecting data using industry-standard protocols such as DMI, or configured to use custom Windows agents. It supports 64-bit applications and can forward information both up and down a multi-layered management network.

The key focus is on managing Exchange, SQL Server and other Microsoft applications although third-party management packs are available as well as a Web-based connector framework for integration with other management tools and platforms.

As well as the Enterprise edition of MOM 2005, an SME Workgroup Edition, for networks with up to 10 servers, is also available.

Other management solutions

Product Highlights Cross platform Integrated tools Application management

Altiris IT Lifecycle Management Integrated suite of tools designed to manage hardware and software throughout its lifecycle; good cross platform support yes yes yes
BMC Patrol Modular and scalable management solution for Microsoft and other environments yes yes yes
CA Unicenter One of the leading NSM frameworks, with good cross-platform and third-party vendor support yes yes yes
HP OpenView The de-facto standard for SNMP-based network and systems management, with extensive vendor and third-party tools yes yes yes
Ipswitch WhatsUp Gold Premium SNMP-based network monitoring tools with Windows application management features no no yes
LANDesk Management Suite Integrated suite of desktop and server management tools -- Windows orientated, but with support for Apple Mac and Linux platforms yes yes yes
NetSupport Manager Integrated suite of desktop and server management tools for SME customers, with Windows and Linux support yes yes yes
PC-Duo Enterprise Windows based desktop and server management tools aimed at the SME no yes yes
SANmelody Specialist cross-platform SAN management software for multi-vendor Fibre Channel and iSCSI SAN deployments yes no no
Microsoft Systems Management Server 2003 SMS 2003 is a Windows focused software distribution and management tool for use with workstations and servers no no yes
Novell ZenWorks Integrated suite of desktop and server management tools for mixed Windows, Linux, Netware and Solaris networks yes yes yes
Symantec ON iPatch Patch management software for Microsoft Windows servers; downloads update information for approval before distributing patches locally no no yes