Understanding server TCO

One of the quickest and easiest ways to compare the direct costs of various servers is to take a standard application benchmark and compare the price/performance of the different systems. For discussion purposes, we will consider the TPC-C benchmark, which is a measure of online transaction processing


Indirect cost comparisons

As explained previously, direct costs are only one piece of the TCO puzzle for servers because of the ongoing costs of running and maintaining each system. Indirect costs include the following:

• Facility costs, such as power, cooling, weight, and floor space

• Application development and implementation costs

• Staffing costs to maintain and support the server

Facility costs

Floor space, cooling, and power costs are the key facility components in the TCO for a server. As we will see, these costs can add up to a considerable expenditure for IT departments.

Floor space and weight

Data centers, which house countless servers that provide the core infrastructure for businesses, charge their customers a “real estate” expense based on the floor space their servers take up in the data center; the more servers a data center can hold and manage, the more money they make. Because data centers have limited floor space, they need to maximize the return on the real estate investment.

As illustrated in Table 3, HP offers the best price per floor space when compared to other high-end server manufacturers. The HP Integrity Superdome has a significantly smaller footprint compared with the IBM p690 and Sun SF15K, and as a result, it requires less floor space within data centers.

Because the Superdome requires less floor space, it costs less than the competition to house it in data centers. (Note: These figures are based on a Legg Mason Equity Research Industry Update, which estimated the costs of provisioning floor space at an average data center per year.) It is also important to consider the weight differences between servers because the greater the weight, the greater the difficulty in actually moving the system to the data center and installing it. Buyers also need to ensure that the floor of the data center where they are planning on housing the server can support this amount of weight. (Consider that the IBM and Sun servers weigh about the same as an adult elephant.) The HP Integrity Superdome is roughly half the weight of the IBM and Sun, making it the most manageable in both size and weight.


Operating large servers requires a certain amount of power in order to drive the processors, the fans, and all of the other components. With energy costs continually rising, power costs are quickly becoming a significant expense.

As illustrated in Table 4, when comparing the high-end servers of the three major vendors (HP, IBM, and Sun), the HP Integrity Superdome, while comparable to the IBM p690, is more energy efficient and costs far less to run than the SF15K. In fact, Sun’s SF15K requires 15 percent more power and therefore costs more to run than the HP Integrity Superdome.

The HP Integrity Superdome was not only designed for efficient energy use, it was also designed for high availability. The HP Integrity Superdome is the only high-end server that has been certified by The Uptime Institute as having a reliable dual power supply–so if a circuit goes out or is shut down for maintenance, the HP Integrity Superdome continues to run.

Cooling costs

All servers create heat while they run, and, in order for them to continue to work properly, the heat needs to be dissipated. Server owners must pay the ongoing expenses associated with cooling the servers they own.

Other indirect expenditures

There are other indirect expenditures, such as application development and management costs, that should be carefully considered when making a decision to purchase a server.

Application development and implementation costs

Typically, it is less expensive to purchase a third-party application than it is to develop and maintain equivalent functionality. As a result, customers typically want to avoid having to engage in custom application development projects. For servers, the number and variety of off-the-shelf applications and system tools available for a specific server largely determine the extent of custom development an IT department must do once the server is purchased. For these reasons, it is important that buyers of new servers compare the off-the-shelf applications available for the products they are considering.

HP provides a broad portfolio of applications for use by HP Integrity Superdome customers, including thousands of applications from independent software vendors for HP-UX. As a result, customers rarely need to engage in custom application development projects. By leveraging the off-the-shelf applications provided by HP, customers can greatly reduce time to implementation as well as lower the overall cost of the solution. In the event that an IT department has unique requirements, there are many tools available on the market to support the development of custom applications.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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