CrossNodes Briefing: Blade Servers

IT managers in every large company and ISP know about space and energy. The multiple servers these companies support demand space, and the servers generate heat that requires air conditioning on top of with the electrical cost of running the equipment. Blade server technology could provide a solution. Each CrossNodes Briefing is designed to act as a reference on an individual technology, providing a knowledge base and guide to networkers in purchasing and deployment decisions.

By Gerald Williams | Posted Feb 4, 2002
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IT managers in every large company and ISP know about space and energy. The multiple servers these companies support demand space, and the servers generate heat that requires air conditioning on top of with the electrical cost of running the equipment.

Blade server technology could provide a solution. Essentially, these units are rack-mounted servers on a card. They feature Intel's Tualatin or Transmeta's low-voltage processors along with necessary components, and vendors include disk storage systems and I/O support, including network interfaces, on the card. Most of the initial systems occupy approximately 1.5 inches of rack space, which is called 1 unit (1U).

Although some vendors already offer server enclosures that will accept additional processor cards, the blade servers represent an innovative implementation. The products implement new chip sets and low-power processors that were originally developed for the portable computing market to create a low-profile and highly reliable server. The racks also provide redundant power supplies, and vendors typically support network diagnostic units to report problems within an individual server.

Intriguing Concept
Managers running large clusters of servers will find the blade server concept interesting. Still, they need to investigate these devices carefully before they decide to implement the processors. Such concerns as network management, storage scalability, reliability, support for current operating environments, and vendor viability become key elements in the decision.

In essence, blade servers can condense a room full of servers into a single enclosure or rack. Just as network management and diagnosis is important with any group of servers, it becomes critical for blade servers. Typically, hardware developments and innovations enter the market, and software and network monitoring capabilities lag behind. Therefore, IT managers must carefully assess the following capabilities:

  • Single point of access -- can the IT manager monitor the performance and operating parameters for each processor from a single console? This console also should support remote access to allow managers to reconfigure the blade servers when necessary.
  • Performance monitoring -- will the software generate alerts when a component or blade server starts to fail? Some products take proactive steps to identify and isolate the problem or the server. In addition, managers should insist on some method of monitoring data traffic to ensure that the servers' work loads remain balanced.
  • Compatibility with other network equipment -- does the blade server software permit managers to consolidate information from other network components and check on the entire network's performance?

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