Things ain't what they used to be, as the old song goes, and neither for that matter are servers (as the old song didn't go). Take HP's latest ProLiant G6 boxes that were announced today as an example.

Time was when x86 servers were really just outsized PCs with (sometimes) more processor transistors, more RAM, a bigger case, a bigger fan perhaps and maybe, just maybe, a different bus. You were paying for a faster box but essentially it was the equivalent of 'going large' in the manner of a Burger King customer.

Today, the big sell in servers is about more than raw horse-power or bang for buck. The latest ProLiant machines are, naturally, beasts compared to the Intel-based servers of 10 years ago but today it's rare for server makers to distinguish thier products on speeds and feeds. Yes, they use Intel's latest Nehalem technology but then again, who doesn't, including most of the old RISC/Unix crew?

The real USPs today come in areas such as choice of energy-efficient power-supply units (four options so you don't over-spec on the PSU!), HP's wonderfully named 'sea of sensors' that control and report back on cooling and energy efficiency, Dynamic Power Capping for limiting eletrical consumption, and support for virtualised networking so you aren't throttled by bandwidth.

As HP business development manager Peter Mansell says, energy efficiency is becoming a key metric of choosing between server vendors and buyers need to "spend now to save in the long term".

Of course, most datacentres today are mixed estates and it'a a pity that only basic measures such as Energy Star are in place to standardise energy efficicency, but at least servers themselves are changing -- and for the better.