Blade Servers II

Blade Servers II

Blades At the sharp end

The world's two largest server vendors have pronounced blades as the future and will continue to plough ever-increasing resources into making them the mainstay of distributed computing. ARN, in conjunction with HP and Avnet, recently hosted an industry lunch to discuss what progress is being made locally.

HP has seen blade servers grow their share of its industry standard server sales significantly in the past year, according to ESS business development manager, Matthew McKenna. That curve is expected to continue and the company has made no secret of its desire to transition as much of this business as possible to blade.

So how is this growth reflected in the sales of its local partner base? Avnet general manager, Gavin Lawless, said the value-added distributor sells as many blades as it does rack-mounted units these days. He noted significant growth in the last 12 months and said it was accelerating.

In the integration community, Oriel Technologies is well ahead of the curve. Its virtualisation practice manager, Rodney Haywood, estimated blades account for 70 per cent of its industry standard server sales.

"We are really hitting the 3-4 blade sweet spot where you can prove the return on investment is there. We are a significant player in the virtualisation space and are combining it into a consolidation story," he said. "There have been problems in the past with power requirements and it was very difficult to get older blades into the co-location datacentres but there has been a big change. A SAN and one enclosure with eight blades in it can now consolidate 60-70 servers. It's a real enabler."

MCR has also enjoyed a lot of success in convincing customers to adopt blade infrastructure. General sales manager, Michael Salama, said they had now reached about 50 per cent.

"It depends where customers are in the technology lifecycle but most of ours are reaching end of life for some of their equipment and are automatically interested in learning more about blades now," he said. "Large and medium-sized customers are most attracted to blades by their eco-friendliness and how easy it is to reduce heat and power consumption. There are teething problems with weight, flooring and initial power consumption spikes but all of that dissipates over time. As a 3-5 years investment, they see the benefits."

This point was picked up by HP's McKenna. "If you said three years ago that power consumption was going to be the number one issue then people would have laughed. The green issue has become significant, particularly since power issues in California put a spotlight on how much was being used by bigger datacentres," he said. "That has passed through into product development and the issue has become very hot so it's possible that the development cycle around our ability to improve on power and cooling will significantly improve during the next couple of years. History tells us that significant improvements can be made pretty quickly once the R&D boys get focused on something."

While some partners are leading the charge, others have yet to see any significant take-up. Ktec Solutions CEO, Frank Keaveny, said it focused on high-end infrastructure and blades still accounted for just 5 per cent of its server sales. Unless there were space limitations to be considered, Ktec customers had historically been reluctant to adopt blades because of increased costs. Uptake has been similar for online-only reseller, e-Volve Corporate Technology.

"We have a lot of high-end clients whose datacentres need upgrading and others that use the Telstra datacentre and can't access enough power for blades," CEO, David Simpson, said. "There's also a [negative] client perception around re-skilling.

"We are convinced blade is the way to go and have some big blade PC projects on the go. Clients are happy to make the investment but there are a few issues that need to be sorted out before they do so."

Strategic sales manager for mid-sized integrator Ethan Group, Antony Flutey, said blade sales depended on the role partners fulfilled with customers. Ethan still has relatively low blade sales and these are concentrated among customers where it manages their infrastructure.

"We care about building a solution that suits the customer. You are not going to drive the reasons why they should go to blade when you are just moving boxes but, if you are providing a lot of value and managing infrastructure, then you have an opportunity to turn the customer to a solution you know is best for them.

"Certain customers are intelligent enough to understand those justifications and others aren't. The critical mass of blades needed to break even is also important and that number is coming down, which is probably why sales are picking up."

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