Report: Windows Server Becoming a Mainframe Contender

IDC says organizations are moving toward using x86-based servers running Windows to handle their business-critical workloads

A shift is taking place, in which organizations are moving more toward using x86-based servers running Windows to handle their business-critical workloads.

Such is the conclusion of a white paper published this month by IDC, but sponsored by Microsoft. The report (PDF download), called "Business-Critical Workloads: Supporting Business-Critical Computing With an Integrated Server Platform," credits improvements in x86-based server hardware technologies -- plus scalability enhancements in Windows Server 2008 R2 and SQL Server 2008 R2 -- as leading to this technology shift.

The report expects to see x86-based machines increasingly running business processing (BP) workloads.

"IDC finds that BP workloads are progressively shifting from mainframes and host servers based upon RISC and EPIC (Itanium-based) architectures to x86 servers," the report explains (on p. 6). The white paper defines BP workloads as "transactional workloads including OLTP and LOB applications (ERP and CRM), BI, database, and collaborative workloads."

Certainly, Microsoft is helping to speed that shift. Earlier this month, Microsoft announced that it would be ending support for Intel Itanium processors on three of its flagship software products.

Windows Server 2008 R2 running on newer hardware is a contender among midmarket servers (priced between $25,000 and $250,000), according to IDC's white paper. The report particularly singled out the new Intel Xeon and AMD Opteron processors support for multiple cores, with 12-core support on the horizon. The new x86-based multicore servers tend to have greater memory capacity and "generally support higher numbers of virtual machines (VMs) per physical server," the report explains (on p. 8).

IDC used Web-based survey information to compare new deployments of operating systems used to support BP and decision-support workloads in 2008. IBM's z/OS led the way on mainframes, handling 70 percent of such workloads. Unix was used for 44 percent of such workloads, while Windows and Linux trailed at 22 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

Despite those numbers, midrange and high-end Unix servers showed a downturn in 2009 in terms of shipments and revenue. The report adds that x86-based servers today "account for more than 90% of all server units shipped annually -- and for more than 50% of all server revenue worldwide."

Given those trends, IDC's white paper sees an opportunity for Windows Server 2008 R2 to grab market share in the datacenter. The shift could take place "as the [current] economic downturn bottoms out."

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