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Battle of the Blades

Blade servers may be the future of data centers, but for now, their future is linked to two elements for which development is still lacking. When it comes to storage and software, the promise of blade servers is still unfulfilled.

What's the holdup? Two things: There's no standard interface for putting storage switches into blade servers. There's also a lack of standardized APIs for virtualization. Yet without these elements, the promise of blade servers will remain largely unrealized.

Let's look more closely. By themselves, blade servers are comparable in cost to their rackmount predecessors, which can be nearly as compact in size, and often less costly in terms of power consumption and cooling. The difference with blade servers is that they share chassis, hardware, software management, and storage connectivity.

Consider an example from Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) in this month's Byte and Switch Insider, titled Blade Servers: Bargain or Bust?: A small, typically configured HP BladeSystem, without SAN connectivity, costs about $816 (about 1 percent) less than the vendor's 1U rackmount server. When you add Fibre Channel switch blades – available for HP's chassis from Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) and McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA), the cost is $11,216 (about 15 percent) less than the rackmount solution.

The value of a blade server rises significantly with SAN connectivity, thanks to the savings in cabling, HBAs, and optics. Since most blade servers don't have much on-board storage, it's also most practical to use them with networked storage.

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