Blades: The Edge Of Acceptance

More businesses are considering blade servers, but the technology must first make good on such early promises as cost savings and manageability.

March 21, 2005

3 Min Read
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The nascent blade-server market continues on its evolutionary path, moving beyond the early-adopter stage to an era in which software innovation is helping the technology become a mainstream option for IT enterprise applications. But for businesses to adopt blade platforms faster, the technology needs to make good on some of its early promises that it's a cheaper and--most critically--more manageable alternative for server implementations.

A sluggish first half of 2004 kept the blade-server market from meeting some of its growth projections last year, but overall momentum was undeniable. As the technology eases into the mainstream, blade manufacturers and software vendors have begun to concentrate on improving deployment, manageability, and virtualization.

About 280,000 blade servers were shipped last year, according to Gartner, less than the research firm's original projection of 338,000. Still, revenue from blade servers totaled $1.2 billion, up slightly from Gartner's $1.1 billion projection, due in part to higher average selling prices as users have aggressively deployed more two- and four-processor blades than had been expected.

The fourth quarter of last year was particularly strong for blades. Worldwide, an average of about 63,000 blades were shipped per quarter in the first three quarters of 2004; 107,000 blades were moved into the market in the fourth quarter. Overall, in the past year the blade market grew more than 75% in units and about 95% in revenue, and it's poised for similar gains this year.

Five years ago, Delaware North built a data center it believed would be adequate for 10 to 15 years. But as the company grew to managing 2,000 properties internationally by 2003, it found it had no floor space left, and the data center was exceeding its power and cooling capacity, says Bob Armstrong, director of information services.The company engaged in a consolidation effort using blades from HP. It installed a chassis with five blades, leaving room for seven additional blades as demands increase. Three blades are dedicated to running VMware, with a total of 25 virtual environments. "We've found that the efficiency sweet spot is at about seven to eight VMware environments per blade," Armstrong says. Delaware North also found VMware easier to manage in a blade environment. It would have taken as long as eight hours to set up VMware on a conventional server, but thanks to automated configuration on the blades, installation was completed in 15 to 20 minutes.

"Blades are definitely our future direction," Armstrong says. "Anything that can run on a dual-CPU system is going over the blades." Delaware North uses VMware virtual environments for its Active Directory servers, Internet reservation system, inventory system, and other applications. The company also manages on-site servers at more than 100 locations throughout the country such as the BankNorth Garden arena in Boston. Those servers will likely remain as standalone systems. "The cost benefit for blades is around four to five servers," Armstrong says.

Financial-services company Commerzbank North America is using blades from Egenera Inc., along with VMware virtualization software, to complete a consolidation project. The company installed two blade chassis with 12 blades each, which were dedicated to business-critical apps such as the migration of Oracle software from Unix to a Linux operating system, says Richard Arenaro, VP of IT.

"The amount of consolidation was pretty amazing," Arenaro says. "For every one blade we put in, we retired four to six servers. Our data center looks a lot neater."

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