With the focus of the digital sector sharply homed in on virtualization and cloud computing, it is far too easy to forget the critical role physical hardware plays in the IT landscape. The hardware is a must-have component that literally serves as the very foundation of both environments. In order to create two or more virtual machines, there must be a physical machine to run the hypervisor software that facilitates the process. And the resources, services and applications the cloud offers in such scalable fashion — they can’t be delivered without a real server somewhere in the network to distribute them.
Although manufacturers such as IBM are reportedly struggling with hardware sales, physical hardware is still, in many ways, the core of the modern IT environment. Having said that, its role is changing rapidly and dramatically.
Gaining Prestige in New Areas
IT infrastructures the world over look far different than they did 10 to 15 years ago. As more organizations opt for virtualization, the number of physical servers in the data center is quickly diminishing. The benefits here are multi-fold for the data center operator because fewer servers means a decrease in costs and more space on the premises. But while physical hardware is seen less frequently, its value has been preserved — even when its role is substantially diminished.
What happens to all that equipment when the service provider decides to consolidate their server infrastructure? It often gets thrown to the wayside — more like a lonely corner as IT personnel pass by and shoot it dirty looks — if they even notice it all. But with a little strategic planning, that old hardware can be viewed once again as a prestigious member of the data center. Nothing lasts forever, so the legacy box no one uses can serve as a stand-in should newer hardware fail.
It could also come in handy for running less important virtualization projects or allocating to other departments.
Maximizing Investments in Hardware
Virtualization makes it possible for organizations to get the most from their hardware assets and it all starts at the selection process. It will be difficult for those virtual machines to live up to expectations if the underlying equipment isn’t up to par. Data center operators and IT managers should keep these factors in mind when shopping for hardware:
Evaluating technical specifications is arguably the most important step in sizing up new equipment. The spec that deserves extra special attention is the processor, which has a direct impact on speed and performance. Be careful, though. It is widely believed that the higher the number of cores, the better virtual machines are at handling the load while maintaining a high level of performance. In this scenario, it’s a not so classic case of quantity over speed.
RAM is another key specification that should be prioritized during the evaluation process. You can’t afford to overlook this crucial resource because it determines how many virtual environments can actually be run in a physical machine. While servers get considerably more expensive as RAM rises in capacity, it’s a wise move to bundle as much memory with as many cores as possible. Slack in these departments, and you’ll find yourself buying more hardware sooner than later.
The abstract layer that is created during the virtualization process can lead to a plethora of compatibility issues. For instance, sound cards, external hard drives and other devices may not function properly due to that added layer causing network connection problems. Compatibility may also come into play when running hypervisor software. VMware’s ESX and ESXi software, for example, does not support certain hardware models and brands. Virtual or cloud environments aside, it is imperative to understand your hardware requirements so compatibility woes such as these can be avoided.
On the surface, it would appear that companies are selling the same servers — give or take a few dollars, features and capabilities. This may be true in some regards, but that doesn’t make the vendor aspect any less important. Not all vendors are created equal — even those that sell that exact same hardware. So what distinguishes one from another? Plenty, including warranties, support and other elements that stem beyond price. Before making a commitment, take some time to thoroughly research vendors to learn more about their track record and the lines of hardware they offer.
Physical hardware continues to play a role of central importance in an IT environment dominated by virtualization, cloud computing and other emerging technologies. That will never change no matter what innovations technology dishes out, so in addition to purchasing the right equipment from the start, this hardware should be pampered with timely updates, the properly cooling and efficient power management strategies. Take care of the machines, and the machines will take care of you for many years to come.