September 02, 2010, 11:44 AM — When a small to midsize business installs a new server in its data center, it has to make a number of connections, including a keyboard, a mouse, a monitor, power cables, one or more network connections, and perhaps a storage connection.
Rather than setting up all of those connections to each of a dozen servers, wouldn't it be great to have a way to consolidate them into just one of each type? A blade server system can do that very thing.
Blades are stripped-down, modular servers. Blade servers consist of a chassis (which can hold anywhere from 2 to 14 blades), the blades themselves, a management unit that allows access to each blade, and network and storage connections for each blade. Every blade is a separate server equivalent to a 1U (1 rack unit) rack-mount server, and it may have anywhere from one to four CPUs offering a range of 2 to 48 cores. Memory support can go up to 256GB of RAM. Blades can support one or two hard drives, or the entire chassis may share a storage system with six or more drives. In addition, the chassis requires only one keyboard, mouse, and video connection (or a separate management connection); two power connections for redundant power supplies; and one network connection. Many blade chassis also offer Fibre Channel or InfiniBand connections to each blade.
Why You Should Install Blades
Some people may assume that blade servers are used only in large enterprises, and are not suitable for small businesses. This is not necessarily the case; any organization that uses more than three or four servers may find blade servers a good fit.
Blade servers offer a substantially simplified cabling setup versus the equivalent number of separate rack-mount servers. They make management easier, too, since one interface--rather than seven or more separate interfaces--can manage all the blades. In addition, they often can squeeze more equipment into a given amount of space than separate setups can: A space that's 7 rack units (12.25 inches) high, for instance, may hold from 8 to 14 blades.
Since the blade system can also incorporate storage and network switches, plus fault-tolerant storage, you may save even more space. This can be both good and bad--although the system uses less space, it can produce more heat, possibly requiring more or specialized cooling.