The Blade Server Edge 

by November 10, 2003 0 comments

You hear server, and it conjures up an image of a large machine sitting in a cold room, servicing clients. The residence and function of the newer servers remain the same; what has changed dramatically is their size. A few years ago, the large tower servers began to give way to the sleeker rack servers. And then, about two years ago, emerged blade servers. A single six feet high cabinet that can fit 42 1U (1U = 1.75 inches thick) rack servers can now accommodate as many as 280 HP ProLiant BL 10e blades or 84 dual-processor Xeon-based IBM blades.

An entry-level blade is just slightly larger than a motherboard, and has one or more processors, primary memory (RAM) and secondary memory (hard disk). The two and four processor blades are, of course, larger. The cabinet for the blades is divided into enclosures, each housing many blades, be they with one, two or four processors. All the blades in an enclosure are plugged onto the back of the chassis and share resources–cables, power supply, cooling fans–thereby saving on space and power.

Where do blades go from here and what will bring down the present premium pricing? They require developments in hardware and software, such as bringing in virtualization, fiber channel and iSCSI support, booting from external storage, modular I/O and compliance to standards. 

But, it is not that when organizations deploy blades, they throw away legacy systems–the two often co-exist, being deployed for different purposes. Since the acquisition cost of blades is quite high (HP’s e class blades start at Rs eight lakh for 10-blade enclosure with a single blade inside), the more compelling case for blades is in their flexibility of use, translating into a lower total cost of ownership. You can remotely reconfigure blades, deploy different OSs or apps, schedule jobs for later or provision them to take on different roles. The management software for such tasks is usually Web-browser based, giving the familiar look and feel. In terms of hardware, you don’t have to fill up your chassis at one go; you can add more blades as and when you require and even run different combinations of apps and OSs in the blades in a chassis. Replacing a failed server is a matter of pulling out the server and plugging in another one without affecting the remaining system. Rack servers, too, come with most of these features; but the blades score in that they are more compact.

Given this functionality, blades are meant for multi-server environments and cluster-computing setups where many apps need to be deployed. They could be used in data centers, banking, finance, government, etc. They may be used for work such as serving Web pages, caching, running anti-virus, firewall and DNS services but not for mission-critical apps that require high-scalability. Blades come in primarily Pentiums or Xeons, with IBM having Xeon-based blades and HP, too, having introduced the Xeon 2.8 and 3.06 GHz models.

All this is fine. But, is the market moving? Blades are seeing early-adoption in mature markets such as Singapore and Australia. According to a recent Gartner Dataquest report on the Asia-Pacific blades market, about 10 percent enterprises surveyed in Australia and Singapore have adopted blades, while about 30 percent plan to do so in the next 12 months.

Markets such as Japan, the US and Singapore are early adopters as it is here that space and manpower come at a premier.

And, blades promise both savings on space and the ease of manageability and minimum human intervention, freeing people up to do other work.But, the scene in countries such as India is quite different, where the 1P and 2P tower-style servers still rule the roost. Only about two percent of the companies surveyed in India by Gartner have deployed blades, while a whopping 80 percent say that they don’t plan to buy blades in the next one year. Where will blades find a market in India? In MNCs and BPOs, who may have tried and liked blades elsewhere and may want to adopt them in

Juhi Bhambal

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