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Issue of July 2005 
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Blade Servers

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 cards’—also 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.

Executive Summary

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.

Power pill
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 tasks—from 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 manner.

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 company’s 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
Arindam Bose
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 it’s 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 enterprise’s 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, it’s a better idea to integrate them into a single blade server shelf for easy manageability and serviceability,” explains Phadke.

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.

Restraining factors

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
Arun Gupta
Senior Director
Business Technology, Pfizer

Although the benefits of blade servers are many, they haven’t caught on in a big way in India—at 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 another’s products. For now, it isn’t possible to pull a blade out of one vendor’s server and plug it into another’s.

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 widespread deployment.

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, it’s 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.

Maybe tomorrow

Some companies feel that they do not particularly need to use blade servers right now.

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 company’s 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.

Blades at LG Electronics

LG Electronics India uses blade servers from IBM to run its e-business initiatives.

The company’s GM, IT, Arindam Bose, keeps a tight check on the server performance. He says, “We constantly check the health of our blade server infrastructure and regularly monitor CPU usage and I/O levels. We generally keep CPU usage below 70 percent and I/O wait below 20 percent. For important rollouts, we use Mercury Load Runner to forecast the peak load condition.”

The company receives the following business benefits from the use of blade servers:

  • The server infrastructure consumes less rack space in the data centre compared to conventional rack servers. A number of slim and hot swappable blade servers can fit into a single chassis.
  • Rapid deployments are possible.
  • Blade server resources can be upgraded just like any standard tower model server (8 GB RAM, 73 X 3 GB HDD at present).
  • Power and network maintenance is easy.
  • The blade server environment makes it easier to optimise available CPU resources within a chassis.

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

soutimand@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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