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It’s not the servers, stupid

August 30, 2010

In 1992, James Carville put three statements on the Clinton Presidential campaign HQ in Little Rock.  #3 was famously “It’s the economy, stupid”.  Bush went from 90+% approval in early 1991 to losing to Clinton in November 1992 (some say Perot played a spoiler, but we’ll not go there).

While much like 1992 the economy isn’t too hot, in IT one thing has gone from hot to very cold – servers.  With virtualization, the server stopped mattering.  The server is a commodity platform.  The core differentiator between Dell, HP, IBM, and whoever else is what do you want (Blades?  Okay. Dell has em, HP has em, IBM has em, Cisco has em (UCS).  Traditional rackmounts? You’ve got more choices than you’ll ever want).  You see this in the M&A behaviors of firms.  Would HP pay an ungodly amount of money for 3Par to keep Dell from owning them if servers mattered?  Probably not.  Why?  Because servers sell storage.  And what sells servers (especially in SMB)?  Administrator preferences.  After some experiences I had with HP DL360s in a former life, I’d never buy HP.  The Dell stuff worked.  The HP stuff didn’t.  The few IBM and Rackable Systems (now SGI) we had were okay (I’d buy IBM again, but IBM sees the writing on the wall and puts little focus on commodity hardware).  Is HP better today?  Their market share says yes.  Will I be running them in the near future?  Probably not (and the server volumes I buy don’t warrant testing them).

Today, the sole differentiator (outside of being on HCLs) is remote management – iDRAC vs ILO vs whatever IBM/foo has.  When you have 10-20 physical servers, you might just have a remote KVM switch that can tie into the old hardware you inevitably have (legacy systems – I kn0w big businesses with old beige Dell Optiplexs on their DC floor running old legacy apps that won’t virtualize and can’t die for some legal or one person is still using it reason) as well as new stuff.  Sure the remote management stuff does more, but when you consider the remote console feature in Dell is costing you an extra 200-300 per server, it doesn’t take long to pay for a good KVM and more other stuff (RAM, drives, etc).  Most of the rest the basic cards can cover, or your system management tool will discover on either agent based management, or within ESX(i) on virtualization hosts.

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