Blade Servers: Evolving for the Enterprise

Blade Servers: Evolving for the Enterprise

April 21, 2003

A key driver of TCO is the ability to use the devices flexibly and, for that reason, get by with fewer servers, each of which operates at a higher level of efficiency. Eikenberry says that estimates that standalone servers operate at 15 to 20 percent of capacity. Blade servers, when run under an efficient management umbrella, can run at 80 of capacity, she says.

The reason that efficient is so much higher in a blade environment is that the integrated management enables them to be flexibly delegated to specific tasks on an as-needed basis. A side benefit is that management is far easier, according to Eikenberry, because the compute power appears in a single profile to the end users. Management of dozens or even hundreds of blades can be performed with a simple interface. This management approach -- called "virtualization" -- is extremely attractive to enterprise managers, especially in an environment where trained IT personnel are at a premium. "Having a solution for system management is amazingly important," Sauerwalt says.

Getting on the Grid  
Virtualization is in essence the execution of futuristic approaches to computing in which the physical location of the server matters less than their ability to be linked logically. Blades, then, are the technological approach underlying such futuristic approaches as grid, pervasive and cluster computing. Though these approaches differ somewhat, they share some traits, such as a high degree of flexibility. "Blades are the enablers of grid and [other] dynamic infrastructures," says Paul Miller, the director of blade marketing for HP.

The integration of blades is rising to the top of the priority list, says John Humphreys, a senior analyst with IDC. He says that there are three key issues driving blades: Reducing power consumption, increasing the density and integration. Integration -- the ability to easily managed perhaps hundreds of servers -- has recently grown to be considered the most important virtue of blade designs by enterprise IT managers, he says. "Power and density fell further down on the list," he said.

Humphreys says that there two levels of management. Each vendor generally has a proprietary level. Some, he says, buttress these with standards-based management such as simple network management protocol (SNMP)-based tools. The two most common are IBM's Tivoli or HP's OpenView.

Insiders suggest that the near-term future of blades will be characterized by increased standardization, higher capacity connections between blades and from blades to servers and other initiatives aimed at increasing the ability to virtualize and otherwise improve blade flexibility. And, while the business is still in a downturn, blade vendors remain optimistic. "Blades are leading the convergence of computing, networking and storage into a single infrastructure environment with a consistent management system," Miller says.


Vendor/Product Introduced OSes Management Density Storage
Sun Fire B100s 2/2003 Solaris Proprietary/Standard 16 services in 3u 30 GB onboard disk
Egenera 10/2001 Red Hat, Linux, Windows (2Q) Proprietary 24 blades in 42u SAN, NAS support
HP ProLiant BL40p 1/2003 Windows, Red Hat, SuSE Standard 2 per 6u, 12 per rack 584 GB internal, SAN
RLX ServerBlade 2800i 2/2003 Windows, Linux Proprietary 70 blades, 140 processors per 42u rack

60 GB drive, 8 GB DDR, NAS support

IBM  eServer BladeCenter 11/2002 Linux, Windows Proprietary 14 per 7u rack 80 GB IDE, 147 GB SCSI, SAN, NAS support