Integrator Toolbox: Think small, save big with blade servers

The lowdown

What is it? A blade server is a new type of rack-optimized server that eliminates the complications of rackmount designs. Hot-swappable blades, which are complete servers in themselves, can be inserted into a blade rack chassis in seconds and can share basic components such as power supplies, CD-ROM drives, KVM switches and Ethernet and Fibre Channel links.

When do I need one? They are worth a look if you need to make the most of space, component savings and scaled performance. Blade servers can pack more than five times the servers per rack than 1U systems.

When don't I need one? When you don't need the scalability on demand that blade server technology provides.

Must-know info? This will be a shakeout year for blade server technology. By the end of this year, vendors will have expanded their product lines, and blade servers likely will have gained a foothold among enterprise buyers. Keep in mind that blade servers are proprietary, and each requires its own management software.

What's the big deal about blade servers? Everything's smaller, from the size of the servers, to the number of cables and wires cluttering up the back of a rack, to the time required for setup and management and, at least in some cases, in the amount of power consumed.

At the simplest level, blade servers are on a single card that plug into a rackmount chassis. They're hot-swappable. Just slide them into the chassis, and they're up and running in seconds with a minimum of fuss. Hundreds of blades can fit into a very small space.

Blade servers are cost-effective because they eliminate many of the complications of rackmount designs and pack a lot of computing power into small spaces. You need less technical expertise than with other servers, and they help eliminate annoying cable clutter.

The term blade server typically refers to a proprietary chassis that can hold a number of blades that act as independent servers. For example, IBM Corp.'s eServer BladeCenter is a 7U chassis that can hold up to 14 server blades for up to 84 high-end servers in the rack.

For large, enterprise-class workloads, choose blade systems with high-end, dual chipsets; quads aren't yet available, though Hewlett-Packard Co. will release the ProLiant BL40p later this spring.

J.B. Miles of Pahoa, Hawaii, writes about communications and computers. E-mail him at jbmiles@hawaii.rr.com.

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