Server Consolidation: An Updated Look

Archived Published: 23 May 2003 ID: G00115137

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Server consolidation desires, concerns and capabilities continue to evolve. Each year, new capabilities are enabled and new issues raised. New and updated research focuses on the state of the server consolidation market.

Table of Contents



There has been a strong trend toward more server consolidation since 1997, led by enterprises in the United States, Canada and Western Europe. A 1998 Gartner client survey among those responsible for server deployment found that 30 percent were already consolidating, 45 percent were considering or evaluating a form of consolidation, and 25 percent had no intention of consolidating. At the December 2001 Gartner Data Center Conference, a similar survey found that these proportions had changed to 69 percent, 25 percent and 6 percent, respectively (see Figure 1), indicating the growing desire to consolidate servers in the enterprise data center. A similar poll was taken at Gartner's 2002 Data Center Conference and shows that the interest continues.

Figure 1. The Trend to Server Consolidation
Research image courtesy of Gartner, Inc.

Source: Gartner Research (December 2002)

The magnitude of the server management problem can be seen in any typical enterprise data center, which probably contains hundreds of Unix and Intel servers. Adding a single application typically adds three to five servers to the data center for such things as production, development, testing and backup. Many of the distributed servers run at very low utilizations. No wonder, then, that enterprises are seeking to consolidate their servers. Storage consolidation is also a growing concern, but not necessarily tied to server consolidation.

Different Types of Server Consolidation

Server consolidation can mean different things. There is a lack of standard definitions and confusion over the various ways that consolidation can be addressed. Defining consolidation is complex, given the broad range of projects that are labeled in this way. Gartner divides consolidation projects into three types:

  • Logical consolidation, where there is no physical relocation of servers and the goal is to implement common processes and enable standard systems management procedures across the server applications

  • Physical consolidation, which entails the colocation of multiple platforms at fewer locations

  • Rationalized consolidation, which means implementing multiple applications on fewer, more-powerful platforms, usually through partitioning and workload management

Consolidation Provides a Range of Benefits

Most enterprises see the benefits of server consolidation in terms of better management of systems and lower costs. However, consolidation can provide other benefits, such as better security and higher service levels. In some cases, however, server consolidation may increase bandwidth costs and decrease network performance beyond acceptable levels. It is important to understand that each type of consolidation offers different levels and types of potential cost savings, and that the savings will vary according to the technical environment and degree of consolidation accomplished. An important area to investigate and understand is the impact of consolidation on software license costs. Depending on the vendor's pricing structure, software costs may actually increase when moving to a larger server.

Storage consolidation, based on enterprise storage, storage area networks or network-attached storage, can provide capacity management economies of scale, better backup techniques and the connectivity to support some forms of data sharing. During the past few years, major enterprise disk vendors and leading midrange storage vendors have developed hardware suitable for storage consolidation and software for effective management of consolidated storage.

As the desire and need for server consolidation continue, we see new and updated products and functionality being introduced each year to help enterprises with server consolidation. It is important to keep abreast of these changes, as they may provide a trigger point for an enterprise's move into a consolidation project or help redirect a consolidation project. Enterprises still struggle with the question of how much they will be able to affect the total cost of ownership of their IT budget through server consolidation. Also, many are beginning to realize that major changes will need to be made to their chargeback models as consolidation proceeds. The most-dramatic changes are taking place in the Windows environment in the areas of partitioning, workload management and software pricing, as more and more enterprises seek to consolidate their Windows servers. Blade servers continue to evolve but still lack many of the capabilities that are needed for all-around consolidation savings. As we approach mid-2003, some still wonder whether server consolidation will be a continuing issue in the future. There is also a growing understanding that consolidation is a major tool in the implementation of a real-time infrastructure.

This edition of the Hardware Platforms Spotlight continues the examination of server consolidation that was begun in two Spotlights published in March 2002 and May 2002 (see "Server Consolidation: Benefits and Challenges" and "Understanding the Technology of Server Consolidation" ). The features in this edition look at understanding what is happening in the server consolidation landscape in the Unix and Windows environments, some of the questions raised by clients, and what the future will hold for consolidation.


"Survey Reveals Continued Interest in Server Consolidation" — The results of a survey on server consolidation from Gartner’s December 2002 Data Center Conference. By John R. Phelps

"Users Say Consolidation Is the Top Windows Server Issue" — The results of a survey on Windows server issues and the importance of server consolidation. By Thomas J. Bittman

"Server Consolidation in 2003: What Has Changed?" — A high-level look at what has changed since the last server consolidation Spotlights were published in March 2002 and May 2002. By John R. Phelps

"Many Factors Affect Server Consolidation Savings" — The question most asked by our clients as they investigate server consolidation, and the variability of the answer. By John R. Phelps

"Server Consolidation and the Real-Time Infrastructure" — Why server consolidation should be looked at in a broader perspective than just savings on total cost of ownership. By Thomas J. Bittman

"Server Consolidation Chargeback Models and Benefits" — Possible techniques enterprises may employ as chargeback methods are forced to change because of server consolidation. By Carl Claunch

"The Unix Consolidation Landscape" — The unique considerations and features of server consolidation in the Unix environment. By John R. Phelps

"Windows Server Consolidation: Expanding Options" — The growing options for server consolidation in the Windows environment. By Thomas J. Bittman

"The Promise of WSRM: Mixed Workloads on Windows" — The new workload management capability of Windows Server 2003, the Windows System Resource Manager and other problems that must be addressed to fully support mixed workloads. By Thomas J. Bittman

"Microsoft Licensing Changes for Server Partitioning" — The new licensing options that Microsoft introduced to address the growth of software and hardware partitioning in a Windows environment. By Alvin R. Park and Anne Powell

"Blade and Virtual Servers Can Maximize Efficiencies" — A look at blade servers and how they can be used to maximize server efficiencies, which is a goal of server consolidation. By John Enck

"Asia/Pacific: Consolidating Enterprise Storage Architecture" — A perspective on storage consolidation in Asia/Pacific that is meaningful worldwide. By Phillip R. Sargeant and Matthew J. Boon

"Will Consolidation Still Be a Hot Topic in 2006?" — The question of whether consolidation is a short-term issue. By Mike Chuba and John R. Phelps

© 2003 Gartner, Inc. and/or its Affiliates. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction and distribution of this publication in any form without prior written permission is forbidden. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of such information. Although Gartners research may discuss legal issues related to the information technology business, Gartner does not provide legal advice or services and its research should not be construed or used as such. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof. The opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice.

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