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Blade server popularity cools

The bloom may be off the rose for blades. Management and heat issues have cooled demand for blade servers, according to IT pros and a

The statement that "blade servers are hot" used to refer to their popularity and their temperature, but now popularity has dipped.

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 The recent "Data Center Decisions 2009: Purchasing Intentions Survey" indicates that the booming growth of blades has slowed. Last year, 35% of respondents said they would buy more blades. This year, that number decreased to 28%.About 40% of respondents in both years said they didn't use blades at all.

These survey results echo users' frustration with blade servers. For IT pros such as Timothy Happychuk, the regional IT director at Canadian media company Quebecor, the practical experience of running blades in a data center stood in stark contrast to vendor promises about their benefits. Happychuk found that blade servers bring more management headaches and cooling problems than traditional rack systems.

We had to pull two blades out of there.
Timothy Happychuk
regional IT directorQuebecor Inc.

 "The idea of being able to hot-pull blades and everything built into the backplanes was nice," Happychuk said. "But we had issues." Happychuk has gone as far as jettisoning an HP BladeSystem because he didn't want it in his data center. He has one IBM BladeCenter left but prefers larger rack systems. "We had a power supply fail in one of the blade chassis, and the remaining power supply wasn't able to handle the load correctly. We had to pull two blades out of there."

Happychuk added that the blades actually complicated server virtualization. The performance he expected of all the blade hardware tied together wasn't as high as one large, dedicated system with equivalent resources. He and his IT team spent six weeks toying with configuration settings – the VMware ESX kernel, their drivers, and the system firmware – before giving up and reverting to big 6U rack servers.

"You can tie the blades together into one underlying host," he said. "We experimented with that and found the behavior of the system was less than stellar. Rather than trying to work out all the issues, everything was just working better on the bigger iron hosts."

Blades on the way out?
But not everyone agrees that blades are on their way out. The survey found, for example, that blade servers remain a popular virtualization platform. Almost 26% of survey respondents said they use blades as their standard hardware platform for virtual servers. Larger rack servers (with 8 to 14 processor cores) came in second with 20%. Just more than 32% said they have no standard platform.

But the popularity of virtualizing blades could be influenced in part by vendors that push the platform. About 40% of those surveyed said their primary server vendor is Hewlett-Packard, which once used the slogan "blade everything."

Dean Nelson, the senior director of global data center strategy, architecture and operations at eBay, said that blades provide him with more flexibility than standard rack or tower servers.

"I can build up infrastructure and snap out pieces easier," he said. "With 1U servers, 2U, 4U servers, you have all the interconnects. Blades really simplify that." Nelson, who is also a leader at data center end user group Data Center Pulse, acknowledged that for many end users, blade servers can present density, heat and power issues for which they are unprepared. But he said that there are ways to cool high-density areas of the data center, such as containing the hot and cold aisle or using a back-of-the-rack door with built-in liquid cooling.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer. Also, check out our blogs: Data Center Facilities Pro, Mainframe Propeller Head, and Server Farming.

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