OPINION

Servers are ubiquitous in federal agencies. They’re not just in cabinet agencies
but also


in the hundreds of independent agencies, boards, commissions, government corporations,
congressional and judiciary agencies and other functioning units that comprise the broadly
defined federal government.


My research shows the number of servers hovers around 200,000, not
counting—because I couldn’t—those maintained by the National Security
Agency, CIA and other classified agencies.


With known hardware, software and services, my conservative estimate is that the
federal government spends around $4 billion annually on servers. Most spending is done
where the greatest number of networks are: Defense, Transportation, Treasury and Veterans
Affairs departments.


Collectively, servers are multifunctional. At a given site, they may perform single or
multiple functions, but in most cases a single server is employed for a single function.
That’s one reason the number of servers is so high. In my recent server study, I
found more than a dozen discrete functions for servers in federal agencies.


One factor driving up server sales is the increasing adoption of Microsoft Windows NT.
In complex configurations, systems designers tend to dedicate individual NT servers to
specific functions, such as domain controllers, database hosts or application hosts. This
is a different model from mainframes or minicomputers, where multiple applications
typically run on a single piece of hardware.


In-use servers I identified last year included a wide range of processors. In the
federal government, you can still find Intel 286 machines on LANs doing small file and
print management all the way to IBM S/390 mainframes and plug-compatibles sitting in front
of enterprise databases. And you can find pockets of servers from virtually every
manufacturer. Similarly, the operating system gene pool looks like the dog
pound—various Unix, Windows and Linux OSes, OSes from IBM Corp., Novell Inc., Unisys
Corp. and others.


If multiple platforms complicate LAN management, what makes it worse is having
different operating systems and incompatible application systems running on different
servers.


Before 1996, when agencies began to deal with program vulnerability to date
miscalculations, it was unlikely that program officials knew where all their servers were
or what they were all doing. As recently as early 1998, there were no agencywide
inventories that identified servers per se and certainly not their locations or functions.


Today, with LAN managers, year 2000 coordinators and other experts concerned about
network performance, it’s likely that agency managers have a clearer idea of their
server assets.


Over the past year, agencies have aggressively replaced aging servers, both to satisfy
requirements for 2000 readiness and to improve network performance. I expect this level of
aggressive purchasing of server products and services to continue through the year, maybe
longer.


Vendors of server products and services are aware of these agency trends and are
therefore interested in a piece of your action. To be sure, it’s a large market, but
also a profitable one because of the services involved. Servers are technically central to
every network, and they are functionally central to every program employing networks.


To justify your investment in server-related work, you need to hold vendors accountable
for satisfying your requirements for improving program performance and return on
investment.


Server hardware vendors can become partners with systems integrators and engineering
companies rather than commodity distribution channels for agency buyers. Such teams can
evaluate agency requirements for better network services and can identify emerging
technologies and applications that will best serve you. For vendors to understand your
requirements you’ve got to articulate them clearly.


The most important topic for today’s market is not the rate of increase in numbers
of servers.


It is the intent of agency managers to improve server performance within their existing
information networks as they plan new telecommunications.


Every major agency is upgrading its telecommunications infrastructure. With most having
completed hardware replacements for the year 2000, managers are now figuring out how their
server environments can enhance major agency programs.


The message is clear: Boost the performance characteristics of your servers. Don’t
buy commodity hardware along the way, but plan on adding services to leverage the
hardware.


Understand the functional differences of servers, assuring improved performance and
positive return on investment. And, naturally, ensure 2000 readiness.  


Robert Deller is president of Market Access International Inc., an information
technology market research, sales and support company in Chevy Chase, Md. His e-mail
address is bdeller@markess.com.


 

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