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11th January 2006

Why Data Centre Server Based Computing makes Sense

Server based computing makes sense whenever we want multiple users to access and share common files and services. In the early days users would store documents that required multiple user access on a file server. A print server could be used to spool print runs from a network of users to a common high speed printer. This obviated the need for each user to be connected to their own high speed printer. Now with the advent of high performance, low cost servers, popular applications can be simultaneously run in parallel for multiple users. Server based computing has now come of age and nowadays it is common to think of joined up services (printing, file storage, email, etc.) and applications (MS Word, Sage Line 50, SharePoint Portal) being run on dedicated servers each supporting dozens of users. These dedicated high speed servers are dazzlingly fast and cost effective and it is tempting to deploy them into relatively low density user environments because of the speed and efficiency with which they can support quite small multiple-user environments. These dedicated servers are replacing the general purpose desk tops and workstations that have served single user applications for the last 20 years.

These low cost, high speed dedicated servers are a great boon in reducing response time, sharing access to corporate information. However, they all suffer from one common limitation. They each represent a massively vulnerable single point of failure for a small to medium size organisation.

So, we recognise the concept of moving towards server based computing and start to understand that deploying dedicated servers handling MS Mail, SharePoint Portal and other joined up services, make eminent sense. On the other hand and at the same time, it exposes small companies to the disastrous risk of the failure of a single dedicated service. For most small companies, duplicating servers so as to avoid the consequences of a single point of failure often undoes the original economics of moving towards a dedicated server based computing strategy.

The drive to reduce costs and improve service availability has provided the incentive for larger corporations to move towards a data centre style solution. Large departments and small can all enjoy the high service level availability implicit from server based computing strategies. By sharing access to clusters of servers, failure of a single server is unnoticeable to most users. By matching the size of server clusters to user requirements relatively high utilisation statistics can be maintained. This maintains high service availability and drives down the cost of ownership. Case studies have shown that data centric solutions reduce operating and capital costs by 40% or more. These economies of use and high availability are beyond the capability of small businesses unless they find some mechanism to broker common access to shared resources without compromising security and corporate confidentiality.

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