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Blade servers: Big power for small businesses

Talking Tech By Kevin Komac, CDW ESSN business development specialist, Network World
March 26, 2012 10:18 AM ET
Kevin Komac

Network World - Many small businesses with larger server needs are turning to blade servers to pack big power into a small space. But what exactly is a blade server, and how do you know if it's right for your small business?

Blade servers are similar to rack servers, but much smaller. There are three parts to a blade system:

➢ The blade chassis, which acts like a rack, housing the blade servers. The chassis also provides power and cooling to the blades.

➢ The individual blade servers, which are more compact than rack mounted or tower servers are often dedicated to a single application or task.

➢ Communications devices and connections (also housed in the chassis) -- switches to connect with Ethernet and storage-area network (SAN) devices.

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The blade system's modular design is highly compact, minimizing physical space and reducing energy use. Blade servers appeal to small businesses because they are easy to install and replace, and because they can lower management costs.

Blade servers may not be a fit for every small business, but it is also a misconception that blades only make sense for large organizations that need hundreds of servers. Blades begin to make financial sense once your business needs four or more physical servers. Yes, just four servers.

At first glance, blades and blade centers appear expensive -- costing up to three times more than individual servers. Yet when you consider the potential savings, you will see a return on investment very quickly -- usually in just one year.

Regarding pricing, not all blades are created equal, and prices will vary. Some of this is based on the blade itself, but some if it is based on the required chassis and supplemental drives, memory or processors your business may need for the systems you plan to run on it.

Be sure to itemize all of these elements before comparing solutions. Because some manufacturers require a new chassis for each new blade model they produce, understand the flexibility of the blade system as a whole before you make a decision. If you will need to continually upgrade the chassis as you scale up your data center with blade servers, the cost may not be worth it.

Don't forget to consider all the extras when you shop. The blade itself is fairly simple to price out, but your business may also need to add drives for operating systems, as well as added memory and processors. Beyond that, you may need to add a card or two, depending upon the vendor you are buying from. If your business needs more than just two drives, you will need to purchase added storage as well.

The power of the blade

Two questions we hear all the time go something like this:

➢ What if we decide to put in blades to upgrade our computing power, but we can't get enough power?

➢ What if we realize that the cooling has become too expensive -- how do we avoid ending up with a bank of blades that we can't support?

What many businesses may not realize is that blades can use up to 50% less power than rack servers. Some vendors even have power-sizing tools that allow you to find out how much power a configuration will draw before you buy it.

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