Buying Criteria, the New Tie-Breaker

Purchasers of computer equipment, whether big data center servers or consumers face similar trade-offs in buying new equipment.  When the focus turns to the processor it's usually starts with a performance related criteria.  It could be the performance of a key application is slow on their older equipment and needs to be sped up.  Then there are cost considerations; and performance at a given price point is a requirement.  Recently energy efficiency has been an important factor.  Performance per watt and performance for a given power envelope become key metrics.

What are the second level factors for when these considerations are relatively even?

Having worked with servers for the past 12 years, RAS (Reliability, Availability and Serviceability) has always been a foundation of buying data center computers.  For consumer purchases RAS is not an important requirement.  Losing a bit while playing a game or a movie at home is not a big deal.  However for a data center losing a bit in a bank account or on manufacturing line has a much bigger implication.  So companies pay for error checking on memory and vendors create more and more sophisticated RAS capabilities so today a mainstream data center computer has many of the features that were reserved for mainframes in past decades.  Not all platforms are created equal from this standpoint though.  Incorporating these features requires an investment in engineering to design, test and enable them properly.  So RAS can provide a useful criterion for breaking a close purchasing decision.

So I work in the area computer security, so not surprising my vote is that security be a key purchasing criterion.  As the population is every more connected and more information is available electronically, there is more risk of being connected to a malicious program and having information misused.  Each year the new attacks hackers develop continue at an alarming rate. And organized crime and even everyday criminals are mugging our computers.  Since college, reading the police blotter has also been a guilty pleasure of mine. Over the past several years, the trends are clear, identify theft is on the rise.  In some neighborhoods, there are more identify thefts reported than physical theft. Sure, the crime distribution will vary widely in different neighborhoods, but without much research it's a pretty safe bet that it's growth by leaps in bounds. And talk to any major companies' security group and they will tell stories about computer attacks they are subjected to.

New technologies that protect our data and our software are becoming important features.  And these features often vary across product lines, providing a differentiation to tilt a close buying decision. In many ways, Security and RAS are related.  If a server is down due to a malware attack or breach, then availability suffers.  So RAS and Security both provide buying criteria for when traditional purchasing considerations are relatively equal.

What's been your experience buying data center servers?  What are your major criteria and tie-breakers?