Do blades mean business?
Blade servers can be cost-effective and pose fewer server
management challenges. The question is, are they preferred by Indian enterprises?
by Soutiman Das Gupta
CIOs have to ensure that an IT department moves from being a cost centre to
a valuable business component of an organisation. One of the hardware cost-saving
propositions that CIOs have toyed with is using servers on cardsalso
known as blade servers.
Since their introduction in the late 1990s, there has been a fair bit of excitement
surrounding these devices. Mid-2002 found Forbes describing them as small, dense
computers tied together with software that balances the processing workload.
An article in the magazine quoted the Gartner Group saying that the market for
blade servers will grow to $1.6 billion by 2006. According to an IDC report,
server blades will rock the market, and worldwide sales will hit
$3 billion by 2005.
Do blades mean business?
Blade servers that were once touted as the biggest thing since sliced
bread are yet to find widespread favour among Indian organisations. While
the numbers are steadily increasing, the reasons for slow adoption need
to be examined.
Blade servers provide modular and flexible capabilities to quickly and
cost efficiently react to changing conditions.
The blades prospect
Blade servers offer between 3 to 10 times the density
of conventional servers, along with substantial improvements in management
and systems integration cost
Blade servers offer between 3 to 10 times the density of conventional servers,
along with substantial improvements in the management and systems integration
cost. They are suitable replacements for rack-mount and standalone servers that
are used in several tasksfrom the network edge to application servers.
Blades are well suited to run business-critical applications and have the potential
of becoming an important building block for IT infrastructure in the future.
Large enterprise data centres and service providers such as Internet Data Centres
(IDCs) and telcos will benefit tremendously by deploying server blades. The
use of blade servers will provide modular and flexible capabilities and help
organisations respond quickly to changing business conditions in a cost-efficient
The use of blade servers has caught up in India. Sanjit Sinha, Senior Manager,
Hardware Research at IDC (India) says that 528 blade servers shipped in 2003.
The figure rose to 1,057 in 2004.
Large enterprise data centres and service providers
such as Internet Data Centres (IDCs) and telcos will benefit tremendously
by deploying server blades
LG Electronics India uses nine blade servers from IBM in its data centre. These
are used to host the companys e-business initiatives. As a part of the
corporate IT policy, the company will slowly phase out its conventional rack
servers. See box: Blades at LG Electronics for more information.
A leading sports portal uses blade servers so that it can quickly add memory
and processing power to compensate for high traffic to its Web site during cricket
matches featuring India. Pfizer is in the process of evaluating blade servers
because it will soon deploy a number of enterprise applications that will need
a lot of computing power.
The use of blade servers makes perfect sense when storage is virtual and
not direct-attached. They are especially useful in a grid computing environment
which can provide a high level of performance, and offer no single point of
failure, explains Arun Gupta, Senior Director, Business Technology, Pfizer.
When to bare the blade
We constantly check the health of our blade server infrastructure
and generally keep CPU usage below 70 percent and I/O wait below 20 percent
GM-IT, LG Electronics India
Enterprises should opt for blade servers when they want
better manageability and a lower TCO. However, the decision to use blade servers
at the edge of the network or the core depends on the specific business requirements,
explains Anil Jain, Vice-president, Wipro Personal Computing Business.
Amod Phadke, Product Head, PCS Technology, believes that its certainly
time for Indian enterprises to deploy blade servers as they are easy to manage
and alow a rapid ramp up of IT infrastructure growth. The preference for blades
depends on an enterprises IT set-up.
If an enterprise uses applications such as ERP, mail, file, Web, and print
servers, it makes sense to deploy rack-mounted servers. But if it uses separate
servers for each of these applications, its a better idea to integrate
them into a single blade server shelf for easy manageability and serviceability,
On the other hand, Satyen Naik, Assistant Manager, IS, Sumul Dairy, feels that
the type of enterprise application has no relation with using a blade server.
The use of blade servers makes perfect sense when storage
is virtual and not direct-attached. They are especially useful in a grid
computing environment which can provide a high level of performance
Business Technology, Pfizer
Although the benefits of blade servers are many, they havent
caught on in a big way in Indiaat least not as much as server vendors
would like. This is mainly because there are no standards in the world of blade
servers. Every server vendor creates proprietary bus technologies that do not
work with anothers products. For now, it isnt possible to pull a
blade out of one vendors server and plug it into anothers.
While the value that a CIO will get by using a mix and match
of blade servers is debatable, interoperability is going to be an issue hindering
The second drawback that CIOs perceive is, as Gupta explains, There is
no clear roadmap for a move to 64-bit blade server technology. Even though software
and hardware vendors have been talking about 64-bit computing for quite a while,
its not perfectly clear what will happen to the blade server infrastructure.
That said, HP and IBM have launched Opteron-based 64-bit blades. IBM also has
blades built around its Power line of 64-bit RISC processors.
Some companies feel that they do not particularly need to use blade servers
Cyquator, for instance, does not use blade servers. Since hosting requirements
are driven by its clients, the company procures and configures servers as per
its customers suggestions. Currently, the data centre predominantly uses
rack-mounted servers because it feels that individual servers within a blade
shelf lack the performance and reliability that a standalone server offers.
However, being a service provider, the company does not have any reservations
on using blade servers on customers requirements.
Naik of Sumul Dairy is aware of the server resource requirements of his companys
applications. For instance, I know the size of my database, and I can
safely forecast its growth in future. My rack servers will allow me to scale
up to 32 TB, which is enough for quite some time, he says.
At home with blades
In spite of the problems, blades have found a home in many Indian enterprises
and still others are in the process of evaluating this option. With the increase
in complexity of operations and resource necessities of new enterprise applications,
blades will look increasingly attractive to CIOs who want to upgrade and consolidate
their server architecture, particularly in the Web/edge tier.
Soutiman Das Gupta can be reached at