Blade servers: Big power for small businesses

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.

The point is, if you are installing blades as part of a server consolidation plan, your power and cooling requirements will be less -- certainly not greater -- than they were with rack servers. However, it is important to note that significantly scaling up the data center with blades in the same space can increase the total density of computing, power and cooling requirements to the room. This may eventually require attention to avoid heat stress on the equipment.

It's also worth mentioning that blade server management is easier and less expensive than comparable rack servers. Your business won't need to spend money on a KVM switch to control multiple servers because blades allow you to plug a simple network cable into the onboard administrator. As long as you have network access, you can manage the blades from anywhere inside or outside of the data center -- even outside your building.

It is quick and simple to log in to the chassis (or several at once), and point and click on what you need. You can load operating systems remotely, and even enter a basic input/output system. Certain software suites allow users to simultaneously work with blades, rack servers and virtual servers -- all from one console.

Blade servers are a great option for small businesses. They can help your organization keep up with changing business demands, and they can simplify your entire IT infrastructure. If you shop wisely and pay close attention to power and cooling demands, blades can give your small business a great deal of computing power, compacted into a tiny space.

About CDW

CDW is a leading provider of technology solutions for business, government, education and healthcare. Ranked No. 32 on Forbes' list of America's Largest Private Companies, CDW features dedicated account managers who help customers choose the right technology products and services to meet their needs. The company's solution architects offer expertise in designing customized solutions, while its advanced technology engineers assist customers with the implementation and long-term management of those solutions. Areas of focus include software, network communications, notebooks/mobile devices, data storage, video monitors, desktops, printers and solutions such as virtualization, collaboration, security, mobility, data center optimization and cloud computing. CDW was founded in 1984 and employs more than 6,700 co-workers. For the year ended Dec. 31, 2011, the company generated net sales of $9.6 billion. For more information, visit

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