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Engarde! Blades Are Coming

Have you noticed all the activity in blade servers recently? Just in the past month, ServerPipeline has had a number of news stories about blade servers. (For example, check out, Blade Servers Cut Costs.) Clearly, there is something stirring in the blade server market. But do you know what it is, and whether it's important or not?

Well, the movement in the market could be important for you, depending on the situation in your particular data center. It might be that you're ripe for a blade server installation. Then again, you might not.

Server blades (the two terms seem to be used interchangeably) started out about four or five years ago as a way to meet the space requirements of the then new Internet data centers, hosting companies, and others who required a lot of server capability in a small space. You can pack a lot of server blades into a chassis that's about 7U high and goes into a rack with little muss or fuss. For example, IBM has a product called the BladeCenter that can pack something like 84 2-way servers into the single industry-standard rack, along with interconnects to get this metaphorical monster into your network. That's a lot of compute power in a very small space.

But space and infrastructure (like air conditioning) savings are not the end of the story. In the beginning, that was the ticket. If you were running an Internet hosting company and you wanted to maximize the number of customers you could get under one roof, then you wanted the smallest and least power-hungry server you could get. So, says Tim Dougherty, director of the IBM BladeCenter, the server processors that first went into blade servers were lower powered affairs, capable of doing light work. Nowadays, however, the blade server has grown up, so to speak. For example, both IBM and Intel, which has a development agreement with IBM, offers server blades with as many as four Intel Xeon processors, and IBM offers a server blade with as many as two PowerPC processors.

For its part, Intel offers similar products, sold through its OEM partners and white-box manufacturers.

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