Crossing swords

Crossing swords

Blade servers are fast becoming the product of choice for simplifying IT environments and reducing operating costs. Ideal for supporting high-density computing, these servers share components, such as a monitor, with other blades to ease management.

Gartner analyst, Phil Sargeant, said the sizzling blade market continued to pick up followers and was the fastest growing segment of the server market. Pole position flip flopped between the two big guns: IBM and HP. "A lot of people are showing interest in it. No doubt there are lots of attractive reasons to switch to blades," he said. "Top benefits include quick time to deploy; space saving, which is a major element because space is at a premium in the datacentre; and quick time to repair - it's almost user replaceable.

"Blades also give users the ability to manage a large number of servers thanks to the management software with blades. Another less common benefit, although one that keeps an IT manager singing, is the cable reduction."

Market reach
According to Gartner, 128,500 servers were shipped in Australia last year. Of these, 8.1 per cent were blades, 80.5 per cent were rack mounted/optimised servers and 11.4 per cent were standalone servers (mostly big Unix and mainframe systems).

About 750,000 blades were shipped worldwide last year. Over the next five years, Gartner forecasts global shipments will reach 2.2 million representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23-24 per cent. In comparison, rack mounted/optimised servers and standalone servers are expected to record a CAGR of three per cent over the same period.

But despite the attention, Sargeant warned blade technology was not suited to all datacentre environments. It was important for resellers and their customers to sift through the hype and make sense of the pros and cons. One of the major challenges is power and cooling.

"It is a big negative. Blades are very dense: they put out lots of heat and require lots of cooling," he said. "Other than the server guys, a lot of players like APC and Emerson are offering novel solutions to deal with the problem. The blade server manufacturers themselves are aiming to make more energy efficient product." Vendor lock-in was the other big deal breaker, Sargeant said.

"Once you go down the blade path, users will have to go with one vendor," he said. "When you go to blades, there's no interoperability so there's the potential of lock-in and pricing issues. With rack-mount product, users aren't locked in and can mix and match."

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