If you haven’t tapped into the power of virtualization or the compact robustness of blade servers yet, it isn’t too late. Blades can host primary operating systems or hypervisors. Blades are small footprint server systems that use a self-contained, rack-mounted enclosure for mounting and connectivity. They have similar functionality to their traditional 1u, 2u and 4u counterparts, but their form factor, density and management are very different.
Contrary to their appearance, blades are not completely plug-and-play hardware server units. Depending on the manufacturer, you will find yourself spending a bit of time familiarizing yourself with the management interface, terminology and server profiles. However, you’ll find using and managing blade servers to be a far more satisfying experience than dealing with standard hardware systems.
One of the reasons your blade experience will outshine those standard Xu servers is convenience. Blades are easier to work on in the rack. You won’t have to fight through a mass of spaghetti wiring, nor will you cut your hands due to cramped spaces when working on blade systems.
Despite their diminutive size, blade servers are as powerful as any standard architecture system. Blades can handle databases, search engines, application services, web services and hypervisors. There’s no need to fear their ability to perform every imaginable function in your data center.
This list of seven blade server manufacturers is in no particular order. The server list will give you some idea of what’s available in this space, but it is by no means exhaustive. Each listed blade is a mid-level, versatile server that can handle a variety of tasks, but there is a special focus on virtualization in the selections from each manufacturer.
Note that blades from one manufacturer are not compatible with blades from other manufacturers, so there is a bit of vendor lock-in with blade use.
For Dell server converts, there is an extensive blade server offering from the familiar PowerEdge line. The Dell system that made this list is the PowerEdge M710HD Blade Server. It is an enterprise-class, half-height system that’s perfect for critical databases or shiny, new hypervisors. It features very high throughput using hot-swappable SSDs or SAS disks.
The M710HD blade contains 18 DIMM slots to handle up to 288GB of RAM. Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) offers six total blade models in full and half-height configurations.
IBM’s blade lineup is 11 systems deep in both full and half-height formats. For this list, the IBM BladeCenter PS704 Express sufficiently impresses for its overall performance. The PS704 has 32 2.4 GHz POWER7 processor cores, integrated quad Ethernet ports, up to 256GB DDR3 RAM and two SAS or four SSD disks.
This little powerhouse is perfect for your most demanding AIX or Linux-based applications and workloads
Fujitsu’s ultra dense (18 blades) 10u blade enclosure, The Dynamic Cube, is a complete server infrastructure in a single chassis. If rack space is at a premium in your data center, Fujitsu has answered your prayers. Most blade server manufacturers offer from six to 14 blades in a single enclosure.
But, the Fujitsu crazy doesn’t stop there. In that same 10u space, you also have six power units and two management boards. The Fujitsu PRIMERGY BX922 S2 blade is an excellent choice to handle those hypervisor or mission-critical workloads with ease.
HP might well be an acronym for High Performance with the introduction of the ProLiant G7 blade server line. HP (NYSE: HPQ) stuffs 16 high-performance, half-height blades into a 10u rack space with the c7000 enclosure. This little machine is mean, clean and green.
The HP ProLiant BL490c G7 sports Intel Xeon processors (up to hex core), 192GB max DDR3 RAM, dual 10Gb Ethernet ports, second-generation SATA SSDs and integrated iLO 3. The G7 blade line thrives on VMware ESX and supplies ample horsepower for any virtualized workload.
Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) supports two different blade architectures: SPARC and x86. Of course, having Oracle’s approval on a blade system means that its database and cloud-based workloads will run with extreme speed and unmatched reliability. The Sun Blade X6275 M2 Server Module contains an ultra-dense 24 cores based on Intel Xeon 5600 series processors.
The Sun Blade 6000 chassis supports up to 10 server modules and nine storage modules in a 10u space.
You probably didn’t know that Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) manufactures and supports blade servers, but it does. Surprise. And, the Cisco UCS B230 M2 Blade Server just might be what you’re looking for in a high-performance blade server. Although Cisco’s server density is low at eight, you might not need more than that to meet your computing requirements.
The B230 M2 Blade Server’s 32 DIMM slots support up to 512GB of DDR3 RAM. You can add two hot-swappable SSDs to each blade, if you need internal storage. This blade is perfect for Oracle RAC, Microsoft SQL, VMware ESX and Microsoft Hyper-V.
Even more surprising than Cisco’s blade offerings, is SuperMicro’s entry into the blade server space. Because of the array of choices, it’s difficult to pick a single blade from SuperMicro, although the SBA-7142G-T4 is a real eye-catcher. It features four AMD Opteron 6000 processors, up to 256GB DDR3 RAM, dual-port Gb Ethernet and four 2.5″ hot plug SATA drive trays.
The SBA-7142G-T4 is a 10 blade per enclosure density form factor and has the look and feel associated with a standard server. The four available SATA drive trays per blade help with that perception.
Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. He is also the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, which was published in October 2009. You may reach him through his web site at http://www.kenhess.com.