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Former Morgan Stanley exec praises blade servers

A former Morgan Stanley IT exec led a blade server love fest at the Blade Systems Insights summit this week.

Blade servers are replacing traditional rack-mount servers as blades prove their worth in data centers, said Jeffrey M. Birnbaum, founder of stealth-mode startup 60East Technologies and keynote speaker at the Blade Systems Insight summit this week in Georgia.
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"There has been a lot of maturity in the thought process about blades, now that they have proven themselves in the market," Birnbaum said. "People who weren't interested in blades a few years ago are coming into the game now."

Summit attendees Birnbaum spoke with voiced concerns about server power consumption, cooling and total cost of ownership (TCO) in their data centers -- all of which can be alleviated with certain blade platforms.

For instance, individual blades don't require as much power as individual 1U servers, so there is less heat generated, and consequently, require less cooling power within a given data center footprint.

At the same time, high-density blades have been plagued by heat issues. Vendors have addressed this issue in many cases with innovative cooling designs.

Blade systems are built for cost effectiveness and power efficiency -- an attractive selling point in a world consumed with concerns over global warming and the increasing cost of power, according to Birnbaum.

Other changes in the industry have encouraged the adoption of blades, as well. "The introduction of multicore processors and virtualization has gotten people to look at their platforms and consider blades servers," he said.

Blade server market uptake

The TheInfoPro's Wave 4 Server Study of server professionals from Fortune 1000 and midsized enterprises shows that while more than half of survey respondents said blade servers make up less than 5% of the total servers installed, 66% of respondents believe that by 2009, blades will make up over 50% of all new server units acquired.

The study, based on 137 hour-long interviews, identified reduced footprint, costs savings, provisioning, and heat and power conservation as the top reasons cited for using blade versus standalone servers.

Enterprises have become increasingly receptive to blade servers as a standard form factor. In 2004, users felt that blades were an immature and over-hyped technology. Over the past three years, blade technology has advanced and now looks very attractive to corporate data centers that are simply running out of space or are burdened by a rapidly growing tangle of server and power connections, said Bob Gill, managing director of TheInfoPro's server sector.

IBM has installed more than half a million BladeCenter systems for customers, and large enterprises are adopting blades very quickly, said Doug Balog, vice president and business line executive, IBM BladeCenter.

"We are seeing the transition in the marketplace, as server lifecycles come to an end, people are looking at blade platforms," Balog said. "The transition will move quicker than the transition from tower servers to racks."

Making the switch

Excessive power consumption isn't just a server problem; switches are culprits, as well. Because 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) has reached a $500 per port price point on blades, blades now make economic sense for even the most throughput-intensive and latency-sensitive applications, said Vikram Mehta, president and CEO of Blade Network Technologies Inc., a provider of network switching infrastructure for blade servers.

Blade introduced an integrated 10 GigE switch for blade servers in January for IBM BladeCenter that is 95% more energy efficient than external switches from Cisco Systems Inc., according to Blade.

Specifically, a Cisco Catalyst 6500 chassis-based switch uses 95W per port, whereas an integrated Blade 10 GigE switch uses only 3W per port.

In general, blade server switches consume between 25W and 65W compared with external switches that typically consume 300W or more, the IDC white paper Making the Business Case for Blade Switches shows.

Blade server TCO

When considering blades, the initial cost compared to traditional 1U servers can be a turn off to IT buyers, but the investment is only a small portion of the TCO, Birnbaum said.

"When you are looking at servers, you have to consider the efficiency, the network and the power costs. When you see all the costs of ownership throughout the life of a server, you realize the importance of blades," Birnbaum said.

People also overlook the cost of their networks when considering server costs. One of the hidden benefits of blades is network aggregation to reduce expensive core network port use, Balog said.

"People haven't discovered the network aggregation piece. The less ports you have to use, the better, because ports are so expensive," Balog said.

Space density, fewer cables to manage, infrastructure integration, dual redundant designs and easily upgradable and replaceable boxes are also key benefits of blade servers promoted at the summit.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Bridget Botelho, News Writer

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