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Server Wars: How to Pick the Right Servers

As prices for servers fall and the competition between manufacturers heats up, small and mid-size businesses are the beneficiaries.
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The major server computer manufacturers have set their sights on selling to you. The small and mid-size business market has become the new battlefield because small businesses, which in the past relied on individual computers for individual tasks, now want to consolidate these functions into servers.

"The competition is definitely is very high, and it's been growing, mainly because the small and medium-sized business market for technology is growing," says Gary Chen, senior analyst at the Yankee Group in Boston. "All of these vendors are interested in getting a piece of it."

Small and mid-size businesses are turning to servers as prices fall and their businesses require centralization, such as sharing files, print applications, data backup, hosting email and websites, and securing a network.

Types of servers

Businesses rely on three types of servers: tower, rack-mounted, and blade. According to IDC, the Framingham, Mass. research firm, about 40 percent of U.S. small and mid-size businesses have Dell servers, nearly a quarter have HP, and no other vendor has more than 5 percent of the market.

Server manufacturers offer dozens of products and a range of prices. Choosing the right server for your business will require a fair amount of research.

"One size doesn't always fit all. You can't have a rack that fits everybody's needs, you can't have a tower that meets everyone's needs, and you definitely can't have a blade that meets everybody's needs," says Scott Tease, worldwide project manager for IBM's BladeCenter.  

These are brief descriptions of servers:

  • Tower servers are the most basic servers, and their sizes and costs are about the same as a desktop. Towers may be good choices for small businesses that do not have space concerns. According to IDC, about half of small and mid-size businesses in the United States have desktop servers and nearly 40 percent use a pedestal/tower.
    Rack-mounted servers, also called pizza boxes because their shapes are similar, and are stacked in racks. They are good for saving space, particularly for companies that use data centers, Chen says. Rack-mounted servers are "probably geared toward the more IT-savvy small and medium-sized businesses," says Diana Morrow, marketing manager for industry standard servers at HP. HP says its ProLiant DL 380 is the world's best-selling server.  
  • Blade servers are small -- each server is a thin "blade." You could fit about 10 blade servers in two feet of space, according to Chen. In mid-June, IBM announced its BladeCenter "S," which caters to small and mid-size businesses. The system can sit on a desktop and holds up to six blade servers. Because they're compact, blade servers are still pricey for small and mid-size businesses, but IBM cited an IDC study that said the blade server market would grow from $3 billion in 2005 to $11 billion in 2010.

Tips for Businesses

  • Servers, particularly blade servers, can use a lot of energy. Look for greener models that can save you money, analysts advise.
  • Virtualization makes servers more flexible and better utilizes server space, analysts say. Ask about virtualization if you shop for servers.
  • Don't buy the latest-and-greatest servers if they offer more capabilities than your business needs, says Steve Duplessie, founder of the Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass. "Staying one generation behind, because a generation now is like three months, can save a lot of money," Duplessie says.



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