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Issue of May 2004 

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Blades have cutting edge

Talk about Blade Servers and the question you're likely to be asked is: "Are blades ready for prime computing?" Blade server vendors certainly seem to think so. Hewlett Packard for instance, says blades are faster to deploy and, coupled with the right tools, are easier to manage.

"Applications require more power and so enterprises are looking at more processing power at the same price points. It is important to provide the customer enough headroom to grow and yet protect the investment," said Arun Natarajan, Product Manager, Industry Standard Servers, Asia Pacific, Hewlett Packard.

The space saving and low power consumption factors make blades ideal for data centers, especially in areas where space is a limitation. But CIOs are more concerned about factors like acquisition costs, ease of management, time to deploy, server re-purposing, and TCO.

With these parameters in mind, HP did a comparative study of traditional 1U servers and blade servers.

In terms of acquisition costs, HP claims its Proliant p-class blades offer savings of 22 percent on Linux and 26 percent on Windows.

"Without a SAN connection, you'll start seeing savings with blades for 20 servers or more. If a customer requires a SAN you'll start seeing benefits for five or more blade servers," said Natarajan.

Cable clutter and cable problems are also serious concerns. Typically, a rack of 40 1U traditional servers has 240 cables protruding from the back. That includes KVM, power cords and LAN cables. "With our blades system complemented by the Integrated Lights Out (ILO) management solution, there are just 14 cables—that's a 93 percent reduction," said Natarajan. That's 5 x 2 network cables plus 4 power cables (the KVM is eliminated).

In locations where real estate prices are high, data center space becomes a critical issue. To put this in measurable terms, HP considered density within a 42U rack. According to HP, a 42U rack would typically accommodate 30 - 36 1U servers. That's because the switches are also fitted in the same rack. HP claims it can fit 48 - 96 blade servers (depending on the model selected) in a 42U rack. That's 25 - 60 percent saving in space.

Explaining this arrangement, Natarajan said, there are eight blades per 6U enclosure along with the integrated Ethernet switches (in two slots). In a 42U rack (six feet high) you can have two power enclosures and six blade enclosures. That gives 6 x 8 blades—that's 48 blades in a 42U rack.

Apart from space savings, the other major benefit is power savings—which also means less heat generation. According to HP, 40 traditional 1U servers need 16.6 kW, whereas the same number of blades would draw 12.1 kW. That's 27 percent in power savings.

Other concern areas are server installation, provisioning, and re-purposing. With ProLiant Essentials, a suite of server management and deployment tools, installation time is just 10 - 30 mins per blade. It takes eight hours to deploy a traditional 1U server. In comparison, that's a 94 percent to 98 percent reduction.

—Brian Pereira

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