Remembering the Mini – The end of an era

A moment of silence for the mini

I suppose I need clarify of which mini I speak.  It isn't the car and it is not the skirt

The mini I refer to is that mid-sized server that runs the applications that your company depends on.  There are quite a few flavors in this class, from the classic VAX with Cutler's first child VMS ( moment of silence), to the Unix family - all those AIX boxes running on power processors, the Solaris bunch running on various flavors of Sparc, and HPUX on PA-RISC and Itanium.

It is the twilight for the mini server.  Of course, like an Alaska summer, twilight may last a really long time.

My rationale for this position has to do with the size of the enterprise IT problem, and the capacity of the server.

background: In the past there have been "tiers of servers" at the "low" end we have all those "x86" boxes running variants of Windows and Linux.  In the middle we have the class above, and at the high end mission critical level there have been mainframes, Superdomes, Non-Stop, and other run the world systems.   Application demand has also grown, but the individual application growth has not matched the growth in server capacity.  The middle class is being squeezed.  Just check those TPC and Spec numbers vs Sparc

What has changed:

  • The performance of the Xeon - Xeon base x86 servers have eclipsed the performance of the "mini" architectures
  • The X86 OS is ready for prime time - Companies can run their largest applications on Xeon platforms with Windows orLinux
  • Xeon Virtualization - Virtualization allows IT managers to fully utilize powerful hardware, and optimize their data center
  • Grid solutions - Grids and clouds provide near limitless scale with Xeon platforms, without the need for monster SMP solutions
  • Lead Platform - The primary development, and first release, platform for many ERP and Database providers has shifted to Xeon

example - 1n 2002 A large company payrol system, that I worked on, required a 16 way mini platform to meet service levels - all data processed in less than 7 hours.  Today that same application fits easily into a four processor Xeon platform.  By this time next year it should fit easily into a two socket Xeon box.  The motivation for a "Mini" servers in this environment has vanished.

Almost every enterprise application today runs best on a Xeon processor based server.   Customers building out new capacity are optimizing on a Xeon based, virtualized architecture.   For web servers, data base applications, and ERP systems , Xeon based servers provide great price performance and phenominal performance.

If there is a soft spot in your heart for the mini, take a few minutes, visit the data center, and spend some lquality time while you still can.