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Switch Blade: Migrating to Blade Servers

Small-scale blade servers can dramatically slash small business energy and cabling costs and cut server space. But is your small business ready for the switch?
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Small-scale blade servers can slash small business energy and cabling costs and dramatically lower your server footprint. And installation and management are fairly straightforward. But are these reasons enough for a small to midsize business to make the move to blades?

Blades are self-contained servers designed for high density. A blade enclosure can hold multiple servers. These servers appeal to small-business demand to integrate data servers into a single chassis, says Scott Tease, IBM worldwide product manager for blade at IBM of Armonk, N.Y.

The capability to integrate more functions onto blades makes for a smaller footprint while providing the same services as standard rack-mount servers, says Steve Gillaspy, group manager, blade system division, at HP of Palo Alto, Calif. The decision to migrate in all or part to blade servers depends on a variety of factors that must be weighed byindividual business owners, Tease says.

Assessing blade applications and savings

The small-scale servers are particularly useful for certain applications like Web hosting, server virtualization, and cluster computing, he adds. Small businesses that need those capabilities should definitely check out blades. But if the costs to migrate don't make sense for your company, migration should be put off, he adds.

To assess migration savings, first look at power and space needs, says Frances Lam, blade product manager at Sun Microsystems of Santa Clara, Calif.

Luckily, most vendors provide online assessment tools and calculators that can help assess costs, space needs, and tools associated with the move to blades. Many blade providers have also partnered with third-parties who conduct on-site thermal and power analyses, he adds.

The servers might reduce the amount of IT staff needed to manage them. Blades can be easy to install, he adds. A small business may not need specialized IT support. While a standard server needs power cords and network cables, the self-contained blades don't have need for much wiring.

But just because the blade enclosure can reside in a room the size of a closet doesn't mean small businesses with limited real estate can simply open a closet door and slip the blade enclosure inside, Gillaspy says.

'There is still the law of physics for every room,' he says. 'Understand what your room is capable of in terms of heat and power because you'll need to stay within those parameters.'

The cost of blade servers

Also, the cost of blades as compared to traditional servers can be pretty close. Savings come when energy costs are factored into the equation, Tease says.

Prices for the blades range from $7,000 to around $10,000. An enclosure to hold the individual blades will need to be purchased. They run from around $15,000 to $20,000. Standard servers can cost from around $8,000 to around $10,000, though no enclosure is necessary.

Small and mid-sized businesses that do opt for blades are luckier today than in years past. Vendors have been stepping up the marketplace with blade offerings catered to the small business. These blades are simple to install and runs on office power, Lam says.

Sun has developed a range of blade products for the small and mid-sized business data center, Lam says. At IBM, the BladeCenter S is tailored to small and mid-sized businesses looking to consolidate and simplify their server infrastructure, Tease says.

SIDEBAR: Blade Migration Assessment Tools

Some blade vendors and industry analysts offer online assessment to tools to help you determine whether blade servers make sense for your business.

Such tools can be found at:

Last updated: Jan 1, 2009




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