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Server technology has come a long way in the last 10 years. Why 10 years? No real reason, really. I chose that figure pretty much arbitrarily. Because whether you pick 20 years or two years, as with all things in technology — and in life — change is the only constant. Just consider the fact that what we in IT call servers today are vastly different from what we called them just 10 years ago. In fact, a “server” today isn’t even necessarily an actual physical device. With this in mind, let’s take a look at six of the biggest trends now operative in server technology.

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The Move from Single-Processor Systems to Multi-Processor Systems

At the highest level, application and market needs drive trends in server technology. Remember when, decades ago, the performance requirements of enterprise applications like databases, ERP and CAD programs started to stress the capabilities of single-processor server systems? In response, the industry developed multiprocessor servers as well as the programming models to go with them. Not surprisingly, as the needs of large enterprises grew, server vendors responded with larger and larger multiprocessor systems.

Where are we today? Very much in an environment of big data and the scale-out model of computing. And the new breed of applications for the web-based economy — what many call big data applications and the latest generation of NoSQL database applications — have similarly stressed the capabilities of even the largest multiprocessor servers that we can build. This gave rise to the development of programming models that enabled applications to use hundreds or even thousands of networked servers as a compute cluster platform. This is what Google calls “Warehouse Scale Computer.” It’s also known as the scale-out model of computing, as opposed to the scale-up model that uses larger and larger multiprocessor systems. In this scale-out context, a single physical server is a component of a compute cluster, and that compute cluster is, in turn, the new server.


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