by January 31, 2004 0 comments

Do you face situations when your servers get extremely overburdened for short periods of time, and during those times, do you wish you could somehow quickly add more servers to handle the additional workload? That’s what the new buzzword called server provisioning is meant to address. The technology is meant to do automatic and seamless deployment and redeployment of server resources when the need arises. It can help organizations manage their new or even existing servers’ fleet in a better way. 

Till recently it was considered wise to use a new server for every application instead of sharing existing servers. While there are benefits to this approach, the big disadvantage is that a lot of server power gets wasted. That’s because not all applications would be used to their fullest all the time. A file or intranet server, for instance, would be heavily used during office hours, but otherwise remain idle. A server running accounting applications would be under major stress during year closing or month ends, but may not be so heavily utilized otherwise. As a result, a lot of server power lies unutilized. So, instead of investing in new servers, companies need solutions that will help them use this
spare power. Server provisioning is a possible solution for these organizations. 

Organizations planning to buy rack or blade servers may also find server provisioning useful. That’s because in both cases you put up more servers in a small space and, therefore, need something to manage them better. A server provisioning solution could reduce the time to deploy a fresh server by maintaining ready hardware and software configurations. For instance, if you need to deploy a new messaging server on a specific hardware configuration, then you could have an image of a preconfigured messaging server complete with the OS, service packs, et al ready. 

The server-provisioning software would determine the best and available hardware for the job and simply load this image there. All you may have to do is have a new rack or blade server in place. Similarly, server provisioning could help you maintain your server hardware and software configurations so that they can be applied to new servers quickly. This can help reduce manpower costs, as you won’t need many people to manage the servers. 

Key elements
The elements in a server-provisioning solution can be summed into three broad parts: image management, inventory/audit and topology management, and change and configuration management. The messaging-server deployment example we gave above comes under image management, wherein you’ll have images of your OSs and applications ready to deploy. As the need arises, you can quickly put an image on one or more servers simultaneously and have them up and running in no time.

Consolidate server resources 
Reduce time to deploy servers and increase system availability 
Reduce manual efforts to configure servers, thereby reduce chances of human error 

Inventory management keeps track of your server inventory. It tells you which resources are located where and whether they’re available or not. This will help system administrators quickly identify available resources for a particular deployment.
Change and configuration management can be considered as the part that brings automation to server provisioning. You define policies to govern what server configuration is the most suitable for which task. So, when the need arises for a particular configuration, this element of server provisioning would automatically deploy servers with the necessary configuration and applications. Once the task is over, it would also bring back your setup to its default state. 

Do you need it? 
To answer this question you’ll need to first analyze your server infrastructure. Determine which servers are idle during what times and how many servers reach their peak utilization at what times. Do these servers peak frequently and, therefore, do they warrant a possible upgrade or fresh purchase? What would be the cost of this upgrade or fresh purchase? Next, find a few server-provisioning solutions and the cost of deploying each. Compare this to the cost of upgrade or fresh purchase. You could even check whether you can pass your next server-purchase cycle by using a server-provisioning solution.

Solutions available
All major server vendors provide server provisioning in one way or the other. Veritas, for instance, has gone beyond being a storage-software company and has introduced software for server provisioning called OpForce. Independent software vendors also offer server-provisioning solutions. An example here is Altiris, who is into server management software, and offers server-provisioning solutions. IBM offers it as a service for its mainframes wherein you get a standard hardware box, but pay only for the resources you use from it, like the CPU. Whenever you have a requirement of an additional CPU, you can pay for it for the time period required. The additional CPU would be activated only for the time period required. Compaq has a rapid deployment pack for its servers, which as the name suggests, can quickly deploy hundreds of servers through a single GUI-based management console. Intel has a similar offering for its blade-server range. 

Trends in server management
There’s a lot happening in the server market, and most of it is focused on server management. An existing fleet of servers in an organization requires better management so that it can be used more efficiently, while the differentiating factor when buying new servers is the management capabilities they have. That’s why vendors are now focusing on providing better management capabilities in their products. 

Anil Chopra

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