Are blades right for small businesses?


After reading my HP c7000 Blade Chassis review, a reader contacted me with a question:

“I do computer consulting and web hosting, and I recently bought a blade chassis.  I was going to use it for web hosting at a colo datacenter, but I’m debating whether to use it or keep using 1u pizza box servers.  Any thoughts?”

I like blades because they solve some business problems as well as IT problems.

Blades can require less power and cooling. If you have fifty pizza box servers with redundant power supplies versus fifty blades, you’re probably going to have lower electricity bills with the blades.  Notice that I didn’t say a rack full of blades versus a rack full of 1u servers: you can pack more blades in a rack, which means the rack full of blades may require MORE power and cooling than the rack full of 1u boxes.  At the same time, though, the rack full of blades should have more computing power.  (Yes, there’s exceptions to this – let’s just talk as a general rule first.)

Blades can require less cabling. A rack full of 1u servers is a cabling nightmare.  However, if you buy passthrough network ports instead of real switches in order to save money, you won’t be better off in the cabling department.

Blades can be easier to manage. If you have an army of hundreds of blades, they’re really easy to manage.  If you just have a few, then some of the concepts are going to be difficult to implement.  Blades are fantastic when you’re booting from SAN or when you have lots of images to boot from, but if your server installation method involves using a CD and watching progress on a monitor, you’re not going to be quite as happy with blades.  They’re great once you get used to ’em – I would loooove to have an HP c3000 chassis at home for my work lab – but one-person IT shops don’t usually like them in the beginning.

Blades are really easy to move around if you have more than one chassis. At Southern Wine, we had lots of ’em.  We could grab a blade in Miami, ship it to our lights-out disaster recovery datacenter, and the remote tech could slide it into the chassis without any input from us.  We’d get an email that the blade had been inserted, and we could start managing it remotely with hardly any configuration.  Total joy to work with.

Here’s the downside: for a small business, none of these issues are problems.  Instead, small businesses have to worry about two problems with blades:

Blades aren’t as easy to move around if you just have one chassis. If I’m a small business with ten blades in a colo datacenter, and I suddenly want to move some of those to my local office, or if I want to play around with them at home to set them up before putting them in the colo, I can’t just plug ’em in at home or in the office.  I have to put them in a blade chassis, and those cost money.  Pizza boxes don’t have that issue: you can slap a pizza box server on a desk, plug it into the wall and to a monitor, and you’re off and running.

When I discussed this issue with the reader, he decided he’d be better off sticking with the 1u servers he knew so well, and that led us to another blade drawback:

Blades have poor resale values. Blades are bought by big companies.  Big companies like to buy new equipment with warranties.  This is great news if you want to buy used blade gear, because you can pick it up all day long on Ebay for a fraction of what it costs new.  This is really bad news if you’re a small business and you need to change strategy.  If you want to sell some of those blades in order to get standalone boxes for a remote office or to use at home, well, you’re going to take a bath.

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4 Comments. Leave new

  • Have you looked at the IBM Blade Chassis (BladeCenter S) built specifically for small biz? I’ve read the hype but not actually seen one in use. Maybe one of your readers has some real world experience with one in the environment it was designed for.

  • Yeah, Southern Wine had a mix of IBM and HP. My opinion, and this is only opinion, is that the BladeCenter S is the worst of both worlds:
    * Takes 7u of rack space (meaning, you need a rack)
    * Only holds 6 servers
    * Requires its own proprietary switches (as opposed to off-the-shelf rack-mount switches from any vendor)

    So it loses on density, loses on cost, loses on flexibility – it’s just a loss all the way around if you’re only dealing with 6-12 servers. If you’re dealing with more than that, then yes, they pay off – but you’d want to switch to the larger blade enclosures they offer anyway.

  • Since you are now a yank, can I have your license plate? FedEX overnight, k? Thanks.

    P.S. I hear IBM blades can boot multiple systems from one image. I will believe it when I see it though…

  • Don’t all those birds and other woodland creatures make an awful mess on the floor when you plug those blade servers in? 🙂


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