March 21, 2011, 3:11 PM — Intel will be surprised when its nifty non-virtualized micro servers eventually go virtual.
Intel, Dell and a few other hardware makers are trying to push back on the pressure virtualization is putting on their part of the market with servers designed to be inexpensive, densely packed and much more efficient in power and utilization than traditional servers.
The approach is the reverse of that of traditional servers that end up underutilized because designers pack in as much power as possible into a given space, which is more expensive and less fully utilized by the same set of applications unless they carry a hypervisor that allows customers to use all that power more efficiently by creating fake "machines" that run on the same server at the same time without interfering (much) with each other.
It's a decent idea, on first glance.
Intel is right that not every application needs 7/24/365 availability or the kind of power a high-end pizza-box, blade or standalone server can deliver. And not every data center can take the heat, power use and space hogging a big-chassis server rack takes up.
Sometimes plopping a limited-purpose little box in the corner is a good way to add functionality to the data center without having to spend your whole capital budget or retrain all your sysadmins to support fake machines.
That's why storage filers were invented, for one example among many.
The thing is, small machines tend to grow into large machines, in one of two ways.
Moore's Law, the inevitable one, will pump more and more power into them as the processors on which they're built gain speed and more capabilities. A decent little email server, refreshed with a new one three years later, would be able to support not just one email app, but maybe a couple of document-sharing things, some local security and maybe a small database, if they were all running in virtual machines.
The other method requires the intervention of IT admins or their bosses, who might have been perfectly happy installing a modest little cluster of micro servers last year, but are now stretched for resources (again) and would really, really like it if the damn things could do more than run just an email app apiece.
So they either jack up the original hardware with more memory and new chips, or replace them with more powerful microblades (by then being made as generic replacements by a competitor to the original vendor) so they can get more power out of a machine the same physical size.
With more power they add hypervisors, virtual machines, and they're off to the races.
Well, the walk races. Because virtualization will make the hardware work more efficiently, but it won't give the hardware itself more power.
With a micro server, you're limited in the amount of power you can add, or the utilization you can get out of it, because the headroom is so limited.
If there's one constant in IT it's the constant need for More – more power, more storage space, more cooling, more electricity, more servers, more people, more budget, more headroom on the damn microserver cluster.
It's like buying a five-foot, eight-inch Smart Car for a 16-year-old son who fits it neatly when he first gets in as a sophomore, at 5 foot 8, 165 pounds.
As a freshman on the way to college – standing 6 foot 3, 225 pounds, with enough clothing, sports equipment and unidentifiable "stuff" to cover an average dorm room floor to a depth of three inches – the Smartie is going to be a bit of a tight squeeze.
Before you go with micro servers – no matter how cool they look or how much power they save – make sure whatever you're going to put in it isn't going to outweigh the vehicle designed to carry it.
And even if it won't, add in a way to add more headroom. "Micro" is a great description for anything you have to carry in your pocket; guaranteed it's going to be one that causes headaches in anything built to live in the data center.