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Virtualization software to crush server market

Or maybe not

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The major driver behind our skepticism is the relentless desire for more compute power demonstrated by customers again and again. The only time the server market really crawls to a halt is when there's no money to spend on new gear because of a broad economic slowdown. Given the moderately healthy state of the worldwide economy, and surging demand from developing regions, it seems unreasonable to us to expect that customers will not find a need for the multi-core chips being thrown at them by Intel, AMD, Sun, IBM, Fujitsu and others.

Evidence for this horsepower pursuit can be found in the healthy hardware-based acceleration market. There's a resurgent desire for things such as FPGAs and GPGPUs (general purpose GPUs) that can speed specific workloads.

In addition, we're seeing a rise in the creation of so-called mega data centers by service providers. These customers may seem nichey, but they consume an awful lot of hardware and have yet to show a voracious appetite for virtualization software. They tend to buy cheap, lower-end systems and to run one application per box or to spread software across an entire data center.

Companies embracing the software as a service model seem destined to follow these service providers, opting for lighter weight boxes that can chew through threads and data.

And that brings us to the last point.

The x86 virtualization cheerleading seems to hinge on the ideas that the software from VMware, Microsoft and others will run well on increasingly cored chips and that customers will stomach paying for virtualization software and for the gobs of memory needed to power the code. VMware, for example, remains a bit clunky and isn't likely to enjoy any help from rising GHz, since GHz aren't rising. The company is working directly with chip makers on hardware hooks that improve performance but how will this work stack up against multi-threaded code running alone on a single box?

Customers will no doubt opt to place certain software loads on virtualized systems, while placing applications that need to fly on their own systems. So, in that sense, virtualization must have an impact an overall sales.

But the models being presented this week seem to discount altogether the rising SaaS model and the idea that coders will soon find novel, demanding uses for multi-core x86 processors.

The mainframe arena - the place where VMware pinched its genius - has survived virtualization for a long while, as has the Unix market. Each segment, including the x86 market, has its unique attributes, making apples v. apples comparisons tough. Still, customer demand for more horsepower serves as constant across all three markets, and we suspect it will keep overall demand for servers high, despite virtualization code. ®

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