Thoughts on server-side computing: HP's spotlight interview

Brian Madden as interviewed by Tom Richer What are the benefits enterprises can derive from server-side computing? For years, it's been the ability to securely access applications in a ubiquitous fashion-any application from any device via any connection, etc.

Brian Madden as interviewed by Tom Richer


What are the benefits enterprises can derive from server-side computing?

For years, it’s been the ability to securely access applications in a ubiquitous fashion—any application from any device via any connection, etc. However, with the recent changes in the economy, the focus has shifted more towards the cost savings and systems management advantages. Let’s face it, 150 users running their business applications off a single server is pretty darn attractive right now—especially considering that this can be done with no desktop support whatsoever.

Being the resident expert in HP's EMS practice on Server-Side Computing, what new functionality and capability will enterprises be able to leverage with future versions of Server-Side Computing software and how will they benefit?

First of all, the technology is becoming more reliable every day. I think that when it first came out (this time around, anyway) there was a certain amount of skepticism that a Windows server could support so many users. Every time it worked people were like, “Wow! It’s working.” Now, there are so many organizations running 10, 15, or 25,000 users that the technology is no a big deal. This is great from the IT business perspective, because it means that IT departments can really focus on their core mission—providing applications for end users.

As for the future of the technology, I think we’ll begin to see a lot more “dynamic” servers in the next year or two. Look at our current blades. We package these today with our Rapid Deployment Pack (RDP) technology. Soon, they’ll all have the option to be diskless and boot from StorageWorks SANs. The business applications will then be configured for a whole group of servers. If you need to support more users, snap in some more blades. The system will recognize that more hardware has been added and automatically deploy the configuration and applications to that hardware based on need. If you need more storage, add some drives to the SAN. With server-side computing, the applications (and the hardware that runs them) become extremely modular. This is true “Computing on demand.” If the system detects that some applications are more popular than others it will automatically reconfigure the blades to support the greatest need.

The ultimate benefit to all this is that we will be able to move more towards (here’s that word again) ubiquity. Users will be able to securely access whatever they need. From an IT management standpoint, users can be provided with access to more applications with less effort than ever before. The hardware will scale. The software will scale. The applications will scale.

Beyond that, I think the next big shift in server-side computing will be as it relates applications developed for Microsoft’s .NET framework. Today’s server-side computing exists in order to provide “any” access to legacy 32-bit Windows applications. As .NET applications become more prevalent, the concept of one application executing on a single device will go away. “Cut-and-paste” application integration will be replaced with XML-based and web service-based application integration. A “single” application will be broken down into a hundred pieces that each execute on a hundred different servers. The term “server-side computing” will be replacing with “ubiquitous computing.” That technology, though, will be a direct descendant of today’s server-side computing technology that lets someone in Ohio use an application running on a computer in San Francisco.

How does Server-Side computing relate to IT Consolidation?

This is a complex question. I guess that you need to look at it through two different lenses, in terms of technical consolidation and personnel consolidation. From the technical standpoint, server-side computing brings all application execution and processing into the data center. You can definitely achieve some major economies of scale, and this plays right in to the blade stuff I was talking about earlier. In terms of personnel, by centralizing your applications you can also centralize your support staff. You don’t need nearly as many desktop support folks in environments that have fully embraced server-side computing. This is especially valuable in organizations that have remote offices since they can do away with most local IT support. This is actually a very good thing for the IT folks. It allows them to work at a higher level within the organization, and their jobs become more strategic and more interesting.

You not only contribute a lot of [HP's] internal knowledge via Knowledge Brief's but you author many books...why is authoring and sharing this knowledge important to you?

Prior to joining HP, I worked in organizations that hoarded knowledge. When I joined HP (Compaq Global Services at the time), I was absolutely blown away by the amount of intellectual property and the number of smart people that shared everything they knew. I wanted to be part of it all. Plus, there weren’t any KBs or intranet sites about server-side computing. Since that’s basically all I know, I decided that I had better do my best to bring that technology into the mainstream within hp. My fear was that people wouldn’t think that server-side computing was legitimate, and that they would force me to learn Exchange or something.

How did you become so proficient on the Server-Side Computing subject matter?

I read a lot. I ask questions. I read some more. I ask more questions. It’s a spiral, really. I didn’t set out to focus on server-side computing. It’s more like I was in the right place at the right time (or the wrong time?). Once people heard that I knew something about server-side computing, they asked me questions. That caused me to learn more about it to answer their questions, and the cycle has continued for the past six years.

Outside of work, what are your interests?

I play pinball (the real kind—not that lame one that comes with Windows). My wife and I ski a lot. I’m also building a train set in my basement, and I listen to Phish.

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