But what does that mean for the current generation of servers? Exactly how long do we expect them to live? They require less power and generate less heat, which should increase their lifespans. Many have no local disk, so we're left with boxes that have hot-swappable fans as their only moving parts. I think this is all a fantastic development, naturally. (After all, we all know how I loathe hard drives in servers.)
I think we'd need two major improvements occurring simultaneously to mark the next significant step up in server hardware. What lifted the current generation was a combination of mature hardware support for virtualization and the multicore NUMA boosts from AMD and then Intel. Those elements worked hand in glove to get us to a position where most medium-size to large enterprises find they need a remarkably small number of physical servers to run their entire data center. Unless we see a massive rise in software resource requirements, the same state of affairs could hold true for the next decade.
That's really the key. It's just no longer true that most corporate applications require massive computing resources these days. You may find a few hulking Oracle database servers that will devour whatever hardware you throw at them, but in many cases, that's simply because they're designed and implemented poorly. Most of what actually runs the company requires very few resources on modern hardware.
If you take all this into account and add the hot-swap RAM and CPU features in the Nehalem-EX chip, the future looks far less like the recent past of the x86 server and more like the ancient past of the mainframe.
With all these elements converging now, it's quite easy to see there's never been a better time to pull the trigger on that big server upgrade or that virtualization expansion. Go forth and buy servers with as many cores as possible, damn the clock speed. They're likely to be useful far longer than you might think.
This story, "The server you buy today could last a decade," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest in business techonology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.