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Expert opinion: Virtualization server hardware uses, pros and cons

Most companies will run virtual machines on a mixture of server hardware types, but figuring out what app to run on each platform can be challenging, according to open source consultant and author Bernard Golden, a presenter at the Red Hat Summit, happening right now in San Diego.

After sharing his opinions on the pros and cons of the three main styles of server virtualization, Golden sounded off on the most-commonly-used hardware platforms for server virtualization. Here’s a summary of his analysis:

Server type: x86 32-bit
Example: Dell PowerEdge
Applications: Client virtualization; test and development environment
Pros: Widely available; inexpensive; IT skills widely available
Cons: Memory limitation; poor virtualization scalability
Golden says: “Repurposed machines save money in the short term, but they don’t scale very well. You need more robust memory, in particular.”

Server type: x86 64-bit
Example: HP BladeSystem
Applications: Client virtualization; midrange-to-large server virtualization
Pros: Powerful; similar skills to x86 32-bit; larger memory possible
Cons: May be limited in scalability depending upon machine design
Golden says: “64-bit blades are very powerful and offer high density, but they do pose power and cooling challenges.”

Server type: x86 64-bit specialized hardware
Examples: Sun SunFire; IBM System X
Applications: Large server virtualization deployments
Pros: Designed for high-performance scalability; large memory support
Cons: New hardware type for operations personnel; can be costly
Golden says: “This class of server offers the optimal virtualization platform for large-scale virtualization deployments, but their prices may be prohibitive for most organizations. You also have to figure in the cost of training your IT staff into the equation.”

Got questions about servers for virtualization? Disagree with Bernard’s assessments or have something to add? Bernard is a resident expert on and is available to respond to you. Please comment below or write to me at  

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There's sort of a another tier in there, between the 32-bit recycled hosts and the 64-bit blade farm: 64-bit hosts from most vendors, such as Dell. This space has turned out to be an excellent fit for the K-12 that I consult for, we can't afford VMware ESX, so we're spending the cash on new hardware and hoping that VMware server on linux hosts keeps up with our needs.
Why lump x86 64bit servers into the blade catagory. EVERY x86 server on the market today is 64bit.