Blade servers quickly gobble market share

The lowdown

What is it? A blade server is a proprietary rackmount chassis in which many ultrathin server blades share centralized resources such as management modules, Gigabit Ethernet network switches, hot-swap power supplies and fans.

Why should I buy one? Blade servers can drive down the costs associated with owning them while providing dramatic improvements in server density, simplified management, faster deployment, improved uptime and flexible provisioning.

Must-know info? Blade servers are the newest evolution in server-based computing. After a slow start, the technology took off last year. As areas concerning standards and management software clear up, blades will become even more popular.

Blade servers have come on like gangbusters in the last year, for two good reasons: They can save you space and money.

According to a report from International Data Corp. of Framingham, Mass., blade servers make up the fastest-growing server market segment, expanding 763 percent from year to year. It estimated that blades will account for more than one quarter of the total server market by 2007.

Vendors are jumping on the bandwagon. They include smaller companies, such as Egenera Inc. and RLX Technologies Inc., and established server manufacturers such as Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc.

For purposes of this guide, a blade server is a proprietary rackmount chassis in which many ultrathin computing blades share centralized resources, such as management modules, Gigabit Ethernet network switches, hot-swap power supplies and fans.

The benefits of blade servers are clear: better server density, simplified deployment and management and improved uptime, among others. Taken together, these benefits are likely to save money compared with traditional pedestal or rackmount systems.

Despite many benefits, there are a couple weaknesses with blade servers: a lack of standards and a shortage of reliable management software.

As for standards, vendors are getting better at managing different types of blades with different capacities and processors running in the same chassis. But there is still no standard for blade interconnects. Sun's blades won't run in IBM's chassis, IBM blades won't run in HP's shelves, and so on.

Blade management is a huge issue, but some third-party software manufacturers are bringing blade-server management software to market.

J.B. Miles of Honomu, Hawaii, writes about communications and computers. E-mail him at jbmiles@starband.net.

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