Networking's greatest debates in the Data Center

All time classic debates include Mac Vs PC, Tape storage vs. disk storage and AMD vs. Intel

DEC vs IBM

During the 1980s you'd be hard pressed to find a better rivalry than DEC and IBM. The companies tried to wear each other out in what was then called the midrange server market. The DEC VAX, rolled out in 1976 was a legend but the IBM System /36s and /38s were no slouches. Big Blue morphed those successful servers into its VAX killer, the AS/400 in 1988 and by 1994, 250,000 of them had been sold. DEC eventually tried to counter with its Alpha chip -based line of advanced servers but by the early 1990's Ken Olsen's engineering company was in trouble.

Meanwhile the companies' competed with their network technologies as well - DEC's DECnet and IBM's Systems Network Architecture - both being introduced in 1974. While the general perception at the time was that DECnet generally held sway with the techie folks and IBM's SNA went after the business side of the house, that distinction was ultimately lost by onrushing industry clamor for less proprietary technology, namely TCP/IP. Download the latest Network World Executive Guide - Growing a Data Center For a Growing Business

The combination of bad results and industry acceptance of IP ultimately knocked DEC out and it was sold to Compaq in 1998 for $9.6 billion. IBM fared only a little better in the network arena, but SNA ultimately wilted. IBM sold good portions of its network business in 1999 to a new, more ravenous rival: Cisco. -Michael Cooney

Distributed vs. centralized

As projects go, running a data center ranks right up there with big kahunas. So it may come as no surprise that the way to run one or many most cost effectively raises an argument or two.

These days the move is on to consolidate data centers. Coming from a decentralized approach in which each data center was on its own, to a structure that allows consolidation of resources, simplified disaster and recovery and centralized management has been a big affair.

Many IT departments have struggled with the decentralized approach - shuttling data from one location to another, managing diverse backups and applications, sustaining the costs of operating multiple data centers instead of one. They've put in Wide Area File Services (WAFS) technology to speed data shuffling between the remote office and data center.

They've launched Wide Area Acceleration products. And, they've consolidated application servers from several locations into one - in doing so, they've freed countless IT administrators from server management and set them out to manage other IT investments.

Some might argue that these tools - WAFS and WAN acceleration - do nothing for consolidation - they simply allow a decentralized infrastructure to exist. But the tide is turning. Companies are starting to consolidate far-flung data center operations. HP for one, has been the darling in the past year for data center consolidation. The company hopes to reduce the number of servers it uses by 30% and increase its processing capabilities by 80%.

IBM too recently announced it would consolidate nearly 4,000 small computer servers in six locations onto about 30 refrigerator-sized mainframes running Linux saving US$250 million in the process.

Other companies such as ENglobal in Houston have improved their disaster recovery and business continuity. In ENglobal's case, by consolidating six data centers to two - a primary data center and a backup one - the company has simplified disaster recovery. It now only has to replicate data between two locations.

But there are other issue: high-density computing systems that use server and storage virtualization and energy-efficient power and cooling systems that make the idea and the argument for managing consolidated data centers easier. -Deni Connor

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Staff Writers

Network World
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