Vendors Sharpen Blade Offerings - InformationWeek

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1/30/2003
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Vendors Sharpen Blade Offerings

Four-way systems make the servers viable alternatives to run high-end workloads, but questions remain.

Blade servers--modular, efficient, and cost-effective--may be the right technology for uncertain times. But questions remain about how far these sliding servers-on-a-board can go.

As four-way blades emerge, the servers become viable alternatives to rack-mounted or standalone models for running high-end workloads, such as supply-chain, enterprise resource planning, and database applications. In the process, they can save money. Rack servers require their own cables, power supplies, and management software. Blade servers slide into an enclosure, or chassis, which connects to the network.

More important, with standalone symmetric multiprocessor servers, IT managers have always bought more capacity than needed to accommodate growth. Blades are designed to be used at maximum capacity, minimizing unused re-sources. That saves space and can cut power costs. In times of growth, companies simply slide more blades into the chassis.

Still, most businesses are trying to justify a move to the new technology. "If we can roll out blades on Microsoft or open source and save space and power, we'll do it," says Dwight Gibbs, director of technology acceleration for Capital One Financial Corp. But he'll need to save a lot to make it worthwhile. "If I can come in with double-digit millions in savings per year, I'll get someone's attention," he says.


Blade servers -- Photo by Sacha Lecca

Blade servers are designed to be used at maximum capacity, minimizing unused resources to save space and to cut costs. In growth times, it's simple to add blades.
Companies bought an estimated 53,648 blade servers in 2002, a figure that will nearly triple this year, according to research firm IDC. "Over the next few years, we'll see a transition from the rack-optimized 'pizza-box' servers to these blade architectures," says Mark Melenovsky, IDC's server research analyst. That will turn this year's estimated $341 million market into a $3.7 billion industry by 2006, according to IDC.

When real-estate title and escrow service provider United Title Co. launched its online ClosingPoint service in April to let its lender and real-estate broker clients open orders and check status reports around the clock, it entrusted the service to 10 Pentium III Hewlett-Packard ProLiant BL10e blades. "ClosingPoint's getting traction in the marketplace was a catalyst for changing our infrastructure," United Title CIO Peter Bowman says.

The company's customers often couldn't access the Web site--the load balancer in Windows 2000 simply couldn't handle the traffic. So United Title chose blades, with Big-IP Blade Controller load-balancing software from F5 Networks Inc. integrated into the blade enclosure. "I look at the blades' best use as supporting Web farms--anytime you have multiple servers that act as clones of each other," Bowman says.

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