Blade Runners

DQI Bureau
New Update

For any enterprise, servers form the key part of the digital nervous system,

for the enterprise's entire repository of knowledge resides and gets processed

in the servers. As we look into the evolution path of the server, it becomes

evident the industry has come a long way from its humble origins. In the

formative years, the 1980s, Complex Instruction Set Computers (CISC) ruled. The

CISCs, though they can process large quantum of instructions, suffered from this

very strength, because that slowed down the processing power due to lots of

unwanted instructions. To plug that lacunae, the next logical evolution in

computing was the Reduced Instruction Set Computers (RISC) processors that

cognized only a limited set of instructions, thus hastening the speed of data

processing. While RISCs are at the higher end of the spectrum, the dawn of Intel

x86 server architectures opened up new realms in the server space. Given the

dynamics of the server market, is there a technology that can marry all the

server concepts and bring to table a product that is affordable but at the same

time very agile and scalable? The answer is blade servers.


When we contrast blade server technology against the conventional server

design, it marks a significant shift. Typically a blade is just a motherboard

with the processor, which slides into a blade rack that is attached to a back

plane. All the blades in the rack share components like fan, power and cabling.

While the initial set up cost for a blade is a bit cumbersome, the total running

costs and the ease in terms of configuring and re-configuring the blades as per

the enterprises computing demands make it a technology to reckon with. Hence

blades are suited for server farms, typically data centers or ISP servers that

routinely witness a sudden demand for processing power. During such scenarios, a

redundant blade can be easily configured to meet computing demands. Also, blades

occupy less floor space, making it ideal for various environments.

“From the CIOs feedback, we gather that they are focused on simplifying and consolidating their infrastructures. They have budget and resource constraints but they have to deliver a 24/7/365 access to IT infrastructure” 

Anil Sethi, GM, eServer X-series and IntelliStation, IBM India

Blade servers, with their inherent advantages, have now become the fastest

growing Intel-platform for servers in the world. Since their introduction a few

years ago, their population has been increasing, keeping pace with the

development of the technology itself. Blade servers are gaining wide

acceptability in India as well. Verticals like banking and financial services,

digital content creation, and the like, have taken the blade server market out

of its telecom intensive domain, for which it was originally created. According

to research firm IDC, substantial growth in the worldwide blade server market is

expected over the next four years. Roughly 185,000 blade servers were sold in

2003 globally. By 2008, IDC expects the market to reach 9.9 mn units, valued in

excess of $3.7 bn.


Blades for All

Any customer who requires Intel Servers can go for blades. Says Anil Sethi,

GM, eServer X-series and IntelliStation, IBM India, "Rather than asking who

should use blades, the question is, who should not use blade servers. Having

said that, I would like to add that the blade servers provide the highest

performance density as compared to the normal tower servers or the rack

optimized servers available in the market. Therefore they are ideal for

processing memory hungry applications."

IBM, for instance, has installed blades across verticals in India like

manufacturing, financial services, oil and gas, digital content creation,

engineering design, and computer services industry among others. Blade servers

are increasingly making server technologies available to the growing

enterprises. This in a way is giving super computing power to ordinary

enterprises, which cannot afford conventional standalone servers. Says Sethi,

"Blade servers have emerged as a weapon of choice for fast growing

businesses and enables smaller businesses to access supercomputing strength at

prices they can afford."

“The adoption of the technology in India is in step with the rest of the world and I strongly believe that organizations that require intense computing power will give blade servers a good look in their evaluation” 

Arun Gupta, senior director, business technology, Pfizer India

In India, apart from IBM, Sun Microsystems and HP pursue the blade market

aggressively. HP, for instance, has announced a new breed of servers based on

the Intel Xeon processor based on the 64-bit technology, which was formerly

code-named Nacona. According to HP sources, the company is the first server

vendor to sell more than 100,000 blades. This makes HP a leader in the blade

space, mainly due to the broad portfolio and mix and match of technologies it

offers. For instance, the HP ProLiant blade systems, the company claims, offer

improved processing power and performance for enterprise customers who intend to

build a comprehensive infrastructure. These servers complement the industry's

most comprehensive portfolio of 64-bit offerings.

Meanwhile with blades all set to become a volumes space in the coming years,

players like HP have to fight for market share from other vendors like Sun and

IBM. Quips Anil Valluri, director, client services organization, Sun

Microsystems India, "Blades are reshaping how the Indian industry thinks

about servers. In the quest to squeeze more computing power into less floor

space, Indian companies are buying ever-thinner servers, bolted to racks in

collections that resemble six-foot-tall stacks of pizza boxes. Blades take this

concept one step further. There is a big potential market in India and at Sun we

are extremely bullish about our growth prospects in this segment."

Valluri further says, "Like any emerging market there is a lot of

excitement about blade technology. Blade servers will provide more firepower for

mail and messaging, line of business applications, media streaming, and database

applications. With their arrival, blades are slowly moving from the edge of the

network (mail, web, proxy, firewall) to the middle-tier (applications). They are

being deployed in India across the banking, manufacturing, telecom and biotech



Advantage Enterprise

As we cut through the marketing hype surrounding the blade technology and

ponder over the key question on its deliverables to an enterprise, the immediate

reply of the vendors is the flexibility in terms of managing the computing

power. Says Sethi, "Today one of the biggest challenges before the CIO is

simplification and consolidation of the IT infrastructure, which has components

like servers, storage, applications, et al. Blades actually make this

consolidation a lot easier, as against normal physical consolidation (where you

keep the servers together), where you get to save very little on the management

resources because you are still managing all the servers. Integration is the

foundation of blade technology."

“Both from a worldwide and an Indian context, blades have found a sweet spot at the edge of the data center. Most deployments in commercial environments are in the web serving, content load balancing, proxy, and mail messaging dimensions”


Anil Valluri, director, client services organization, Sun Microsystems India

Agrees Arun Gupta, senior director, business technology, Pfizer India,

"Blade servers are maturing in technical terms and going forward should

encourage building of grids in the enterprise thereby harnessing the unused

power across multiple servers. Moreover, by compressing the form factor, one of

the big benefits of blades is in space saving over standard rack-mounted

servers. Apart from the obvious benefits, they also encourage storage separation

from servers, which improves utilization of disks."


Pfizer India is currently operating with legacy servers acquired over a

period of time. In the next phase of its consolidation and renewal, it would be

evaluating blades as an option. At the same time, the next cycle will also

coincide with the push towards 64-bit computing infrastructure. Thus

availability of 64-bit blades will be one of the key factors its adoption. Says

Gupta, "The adoption of technology in India is in step with the rest of the

world and I strongly believe that organizations that require intense computing

power will be giving blade servers a good look in their evaluation."

Blades: a Value Proposition for Enterprise

RLX Technologies is the pioneer in blade technology. The blade server is a server card that plugs into a specially-made rack with a back plane. The card has components like the processor's memory and network interface connection. The key difference is that all these components are embedded in a single card, as against conventional servers wherein each card takes the memory, networking, et al. The blades, on the other hand, take on certain common components like cooling, network connections, power and cabling, and with many blades sharing common resources, this greatly reduces power consumption. An enterprise can derive many benefits out of blade servers, like optimal usage of IT resources, better server utilization through better management, better space management mainly in a data center environment without reducing the computing power. But above all, the key benefit is in creating a modular IT environment that creates a high performance computing infrastructure. 

The maturing of blade technology is clearly a value proposition for

enterprises. For instance, with 64-bit RISC processor based blades becoming a

reality enterprises can run mission critical applications on blades. However

industry sources aver that RISC based blades would be the forte of niche

segments like BFSI and telecom companies. Says Valluri, "Indian CIOs are as

excited like their counterparts worldwide about blades. If you consider a CIO's

role today, it has evolved from just taking care of the organization's IT

needs to a business enabler. With that in perspective, the key concern that CIOs

have about blades centers around arriving at the seamless integration of a blade

environment into their existing data center architecture. Here the selection of

the right vendor and careful planning will help the CIO realize the underlying

benefits of the blade technology."

Blade server technology has matured faster than expected and the IDC's

projected market size of $3.7 bn by 2008 is a clear indicator of the foreseen

adoption of this technology in the days ahead. Moreover, the evolution of 64-bit

RISC based blades is also being seen as a turning point and the biggest and best

value proposition for enterprises. While the market for the 32-bit server

platform is still a burgeoning one, the fear of OS crashes while running mission

critical applications on a 32-bit platform is always there. Given these

limitations, enterprises centered on 32-bit technologies can now logically

migrate to 64-bit RISC blades and derive maximum RoI and TCO. All in all, for

enterprise, which does not have any major legacy systems, going in for blades

would be the next natural step.

Shrikanth G in