Blade Adoption Goes Beyond Space Saving

By Drew Robb

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IDC reports that the blade server market accounted for $440 million in sales last quarter. Although this is still only 4 percent of total server sales, blade sales rose 67 percent in the same period. And that pace is expected to continue for some time.

So what’s the big attraction? Space saving via server consolidation is certainly the No. 1 reason. But blade adoption is now moving beyond space considerations.

Other drivers cited by IT executives include reduction of cooling demands, simplifying the data center architecture, improving performance, gaining access to affordable super-computing resources, and even eliminating the need for IT departments at branch offices.

“The blade server enables much more computing power in a smaller space,” said Tam Dell’Oro, an analyst with Dell’Oro Group. “But it also is a very appealing configuration in other areas, such as for those who want to practice high-performance computing.”

Her company recorded 400,000 blade server units shipped in 2004. For this year, she predicts the total will exceed 600,000.

Space Comes First

The initial point of interest in blades certainly seems to be saving space. CIOs are all too familiar with server rooms and data centers stacked to the ceiling with computing gear; not to mention the colossal electricity bills associated with it.

“The first and overriding issue behind our usage of blades is data center space, which is extremely limited,” said Art Beane, IT enterprise architect, for Aegis Mortgage Corp. of Houston, a company with three data centers as well as branch offices in 46 states. “We'll be able to expand our processing capability to support at least four times the current level without having to add data center space.”

Along with making more room, Beane notes substantial savings due to a big reduction in heat generation and power consumption. By using HP blade servers in conjunction with HP Systems Insight Manager, he’s been able to cut repair times dramatically: Aegis can now swap entire servers as easily as swapping hard drives, he said.

The move to blades also has enabled the company to reduce to two the number of server models deployed: the HP BL35p for Web and application servers, and the HP BL45p for database servers and for host servers for virtualization.

The organization currently has about 130 blade servers and is adding about 20 more per month.

Finally, Beane comments that having more space has opened up the company to greater disaster recovery (DR) responsiveness, i.e., all revenue-related application servers are being arranged in redundant pairs to give greater fault tolerance and improve performance.

“We’ll soon be able to lose access to an entire data center without impacting revenue operations,” he said. “At the current rate, we should surpass a 200-blade deployment in less than six months.”

Blade University

Like Aegis, Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., initially sought blades as a solution to space concerns. It has already eliminated one data center and plans to get rid of another one next year.

“We were running out of space in the operations room and wanted to do away with one data center,” said Art Gloster, vice president for Information Services. “So we opted for a server consolidation project to take us from 74 servers to less than 25.”

Bryant began its server consolidation efforts using IBM Intel HS 20 blade servers running Linux. The first phase involved the moving of 35 file, print and application systems onto 14 IBM BladeCenter HS20 servers. These are dual processor machines with 4G memory.

With that accomplished, the university is now embarking upon the next phase: adding more powerful IBM JS 20 blades to accomplish yet more consolidation.

Beyond mere space gains, however, Gloster expects a host of other benefits such as lower total cost of operations, increased performance and improved ease of use. Bryant has streamlined its number of operating systems, for example, eliminating Windows NT, AIX and RS 6000 in recent months. It now only has Windows 200x, Linux and Sun Solaris running internally.

“We want to move to the IBM JS 20 blades for the sake of greater reliability and more robustness,” said Gloster. “Consolidation has meant that we have been able to take on the management of our network internally and add more applications such as voice over IP (VoIP) without adding staff.”

Remote Office Elimination

Perhaps the most radical use of blades comes from The Reynolds & Reynolds Co. in Dayton, Ohio. Reynolds & Reynolds offers a dealer management system that services automotive dealers and has more than 10,000 users.

The traditional model for doing business involved the establishment of a server room at each dealership, as well as someone on site being responsible for IT. Due to the inherent inefficiencies, the company has established a different model where blades servers at an IBM data center in Dayton are harnessed to run dealer applications centrally.

The company is using about 100 IBM HS20 blades in an on-demand set up to transition dealers off having their own in-house server rooms. This simplifies everything: no more backups of dealer data, server updates or even having an IT guy on site. Instead, they can host applications for dealers in one place and manage it centrally.

“The BladeCenter allows for excellent scalability and remote management of the systems,” said Jeff Almoney, CTO at Reynolds & Reynolds. “It is the building block for our Applications On Demand environment.”