Rise of the Micro Architecture

The narrative in IT over the past decade or so is that virtualization and consolidation will drive the market for big servers and even bigger network components. Consolidation, as a rule, increases efficiency and decreases both capital and operating budgets by enabling higher utilization of available resources.

True enough, but then how to explain the sudden rise of mini- and micro-architectures in enterprise settings?

HP is the latest vendor to join this movement, with the release of the Just Right IT line for small business settings — typically offices of 10 people or less. The line features a new ProLiant MicroServer, along with several mini-tower PCs and a new single-console HP Insight management system. The server is half the size of conventional ProLiants and shaves about 150 watts off of power consumption. It also runs a lot quieter — a must considering most will be housed somewhere in the office as opposed to a separate server room.

Part of the movement to smaller devices is driven by new micro-architectures coming out on the latest silicon. Intel is touting its Xeon 3400 line for a new generation of microservers, with plans for systems drawing as little as 30 watts. AMD is on a similar track with plans to repurpose its Bobcat line, originally intended for netbook and notebook applications, for higher-end servers. Companies like ARM are also said to be evaluating their low-power mobile and embedded RISC designs for microservers, possibly targeting the growing legion of cloud providers.

Interest in these kinds of micro-architectures is part of a larger movement toward “physicalization.” Essentially the opposite of virtualization, physicalization seeks to place multiple physical devices on chips or boards, which can then be pooled or even virtualized according to the user’s needs. Many see the practice as the preferred solution for small organizations because it provides a reasonably scalable environment using low-cost, low-power processing technology. And since you can maintain a one-to-one relationship between instances and hardware, you avoid much of the management overhead that virtualization requires.

The gamble here, though, is that small business will continue to prefer on-site data resources as opposed to low-cost, low-maintenance cloud solutions flooding the market. On the one hand, there’s no reason to think a small business owner would trust online data resources any more than a large enterprise IT manager. Then again, there is something to be said for rapidly scalable, state-of-the-art resources with virtually no capital costs.

Either way, small organizations will benefit from both new services and new technologies more suited to their unique needs.

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