Servers remain the backbone of business IT infrastructure, but in the cloud era your choice is far more complex than just choosing hardware and an operating system. We walk through the key factors you need to consider and the strategies you can use to maximise the performance of your server systems.
The Evolution Of Server Systems
Experts once predicted that there was a need for maybe five computers in the whole world. Once personal computers became commonplace, it was argued that 640K of memory was more than we would ever need. Expectations change regularly.
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Regardless of your age, you'll have a memory of when computing was very different to today. At first, it was all about centralised processing and terminals that let you type data in and read information is stunning green on black.
The 1980s saw the arrival of the beige box – the PC. Although the first PCs were expensive and difficult to use, it was just a few years from the arrival of the Altair and Apple 1 until we saw personal computers GUIs, mice and colour screens that could be used by non-scientists. Pretty soon, high-powered PCs with many megabytes of memory and the ability to connect to each other over networks were with us and we entered the age of the server.
Today, it's all about the cloud.
The cloud is able to take advantage of superfast processors, plentiful memory, copious storage and virtualisation so we can use local applications in the office alongside applications that are delivered from centralised systems that are hosted by external organisations. For example, you can use a locally installed word processor to store documents on your computer's hard drive and a local server for your colleagues and then synchronise that data to a hosted storage on the cloud so that clients can easily access it.
For computer users, this is a great time. We are at a tipping point where we can take advantage of a number of robust, mature technologies that are reliable, easy to use and cheap to access. The pure "cloud era" won't last long – we're already moving towards a computing landscape where hybrids will be the norm and we chose the solution that best fits the way we work.
Current Roadblocks In Server Utilisation
What's stopping us from getting the most out of our servers? Many organisations add servers, as they're needed, without much forward planning. As the business grows, new servers are added and eventually there are several servers in use. The trouble is that some are fully utilised while others are barely touched. For example, often disk space in one server can't be efficiently used in others, leading to frustration and wasted resources.
One answer to this is virtualisation. Instead of buying separate, physical servers for each business activity, a larger server is purchased and several virtual servers are deployed. This has helped reduce the number of physical devices and changed the way servers are managed. So while virtualisation has offered lots of promise, some businesses have missed out on all the benefits as they've grappled with a new way to manage their IT.
That challenge brings us back to the cloud. Regardless of how technically inclined you are, it's a sure bet that someone has mentioned the cloud or "something-as-a-service". Instead of deploying your own hardware and software, the cloud outsources all of that to a service provider. As long as your Internet connection stays up and offers decent performance you access your systems using almost any computing device with a web browser.
If you're wary about outsourcing critical company systems and information you can use your own, unshared infrastructure and applications that are offered through an outsourcer. This is usually called a private cloud as it uses internet-based systems but they are accessed over a private connection and aren't shared with others.
The trick to knowing what sort of solution is best for you is to spend some time writing down and analysing what you do, what the problems are with your current approach to technology, and then looking at the gap between what you have and what you need. It's tempting to follow the crowd and go with what's currently popular but you need to work through this process or risk deploying systems that don't work for you.
One of the main advantages often touted by cloud providers is that they can reduce your power bills and offer greener systems than you could manage. While this may be true it's worth doing some investigation – particularly on any green claims. While your own local carbon footprint might shrink, all you might be doing is moving carbon emissions from your office to the service provider.
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