What is a Blade Server?

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If you’re planning the data architecture for your organization, chances are good you’re considering blade servers. This server structure is a go-to choice for packing lots of power into small spaces. But there’s lots of ways they differ from other server structures, like rack or tower servers, and those differences will have a big impact on how your data center performs and runs. Let’s talk about what you need to know before you invest.

blade server

Blade Servers: A definition

A blade server is a type of server architecture that has a single chassis that houses multiple server modules, known as “blades.” The chassis provides the power supply and enclosures for the blades, but because of the way they are constructed and enclosed, blade servers can run well independently of each other, or in concert with each other.

Each blade is self-contained in its own enclosure, with its own CPU, RAM and storage. The main benefit to this type of architecture over a more traditional rack server is mainly space. The blade servers can house more components in a smaller space than other types of server architectures. Because each blade can slide easily in and out of the chassis, the blades themselves are easier to expand and easier to maintain than other types of options. Each blade server can run independently with its own management system, which usually includes a network or storage switch. Blades can also be clustered to operate together.

Further reading: Top Blade Servers of 2021

Key Advantages of Blade Servers

Blade servers are typically more expensive than rack servers, often costing as much as $12,000 each. But there are important reasons why IT leaders choose to invest in this architecture, including:

  • Compact size: Blade servers are the smallest of all the server options out there, and that makes them an attractive choice for organizations looking to have more processing power in less rack space.
  • Scalability: While other servers use expansion through slots, blade servers use expansion cards instead. This gives data architects the ability to create expansion “mezzanines” that can be customized to meet a company’s needs. The flexibility they offer allows for the use of fibre channel and gigabit ethernet, all without needing extra blades or space.
  • Simple Cable Configuration: Blade servers, in general, require less than half the amount of connective cabling over rack or tower servers. This lowers the difficulty and expense of installation.
  • Reduced power consumption: With less cabling, there’s less power consumption. With less power consumption, there’s not as much heat either, which reduces the amount of cooling you’ll need for your data center. These are the sorts of savings that truly add up over time. It’s important to note, however, that stacking numerous blade servers together will still generate a lot of heat, so a blade server is by no means a panacea for this issue.
  • Reduced maintenance and management time: Blade servers are simpler to run, simpler to install, and simpler to maintain. Why? Because all the blade servers can be connected through a single interface. That makes them far easier to monitor. And because each blade server is its own self-contained unit, it’s easier to take them offline for routine maintenance.
  • Load balancing: The smaller, more compact infrastructure of blade servers make it far easier to keep the load balanced from server to server. The result? Fewer failovers, and streamlined monitoring that means failovers are likely to be prevented from happening.

What are Blade Servers Used for?

A key difference between rack servers and blade servers has to do with their ability to multitask. Because of the way the blade server units are constructed, they can only be dedicated to a single function. The server units are then networked together to do more complex functions.

This, combined with their efficient use of energy, make blade servers excellent when large amounts of power are needed to do singular, non-core tasks, such as:

  • web hosting for data centers
  • cluster computing
  • network virtualization
  • file sharing
  • serving and caching pages for mobile and web apps
  • streaming audio and video content
  • SSL encryption and storage of web communication
  • reconfiguration of web pages for smaller displays

Other considerations

While blade servers offer users many advantages, there are many reasons why they aren’t perfect for every use case. For instance, blade servers have proprietary slots, which can limit expansion if your needs don’t sync up with what’s offered.

Blade servers also require the power to be off to complete specific functions. The automated turning off and turning on of the servers can create data bottlenecks and downtime that have to be planned around. It can also put the entire chassis at risk if there’s a power outage or malfunction—an issue other server options don’t have.

Regardless, blade servers offer one of the most popular server configurations available today. With the right research and architecture, they can work for you, too.