Hype vs. Hope: 10 Things You Should Know About Buying Blade Servers

Do the glowing vendor claims surrounding server blades still stand if you cut out the marketing hype? Let's find out.

As an IT Manager, you are likely inundated by positive-spin marketing and vendors touting that their solution is “better, more cost-effective, cheaper, more efficient” and so on. Blade Servers are the latest technology to fall prey to the hype, over-selling and marketing blitzes that follow any new or up and coming technology or product. What happens, though, if we dump the glossy marketing hype and boil-down the facts? Will a distilled overview of what blade servers can really do for you measure up to the claims? Let’s find out.

1. Blade Servers Use Less Power

This bit of hype may be true. In fact, they use up to 28% less wattage than conventional servers. The power in a blade enclosure spreads over the entire enclosure so that the most efficient power configuration is an enclosure full of Blades. The amount of power allocated to each Blade is somewhat vendor-specific and some definitely perform better in this area than others but overall Blades consume significantly less power than their conventional counterparts. Software is also available that can allocate more or less power to specific Blades depending on individual needs.
Mobile processors are also more power efficient than their conventional brethren. These new generation processors use far less power (~50W+) at peak usage times but also have the ability to return to a very low consumption when idle. Newer designs by Intel and AMD have brought some single core processors down to the <10W consumption range.

Conclusion: New design innovations turn hype into hope.

2. Blade Servers Require Less Cooling

In the early days of Blades — say, 5 years ago — this was not true. The hype surrounding the cooling claim is responsible for many IT shops sticking with technology that is more conventional. Early versions of Blades and their enclosures were not airflow friendly but Current Blade and Blade enclosure design is far superior to those of just a few years ago.

Hard drives, CPUs, and Power Supplies are the big heat producers inside a computer. Contemporary Blade Servers come standard with more efficient power supplies that not only consume less power but also give off from 10-25% less heat than earlier versions. Power supplies aren’t the only items to get a contemporary redesign; some vendors are using solid state hard drives with no moving parts that generate almost no heat compared to spinning drives. To decrease heat in Blades further, vendors have not only turned to mobile processors for their power efficiency but also for their reduced heat generation. For those who don’t use solid state technology, some have opted for less power hungry and heat producing 2.5″ drives instead of the standard 3.5″ size.

“The 2.5″ hard drives used in most blade centers usually have a higher failure rate than the typical 3.5″ SAS/SATA drives in non-blade servers,” says Mike Bacher of TulsaConnect Internet Services in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He adds, “[Although] this is changing as time goes on.”

Conclusion: Believe the hype on this one but make intelligent vendor-to-vendor comparisons.

Blade Servers Lower Your TCO

TCO is possibly the most overused three-letter acronym in the technology business. Everything a vendor does for you will lower your TCO but usually after blowing a lot of upfront money on the solution. Blade Servers certainly can lower your TCO by lowering overall power costs for computing power and cooling of the Data Center.

Can Blade Servers provide significant savings in other areas?

They take up less rack space, which means you will pay less money in a hosted environment. Most ISPs who lease rackspace do it on a per rack unit basis. Using Blades will greatly decrease your space consumption in those racks.

Blades are in fact less expensive than the equivalent server with a conventional design is. They have become commodity hardware though their performance compares favorably with standard server architecture. The new generation of Blades is changing the stigma of inexpensive and commodity into a positive attribute. According to some vendor hype, you will actually save money on maintenance and management by deploying Blades. This too may actually be the case due to the ease of racking a new Blade and a minimal provisioning time–a lower cost hardware technician can actually connect the new server and have it available for an OS within minutes of taking it out of the box.

Chris Pritchard, System Administrator at Tilted Planet, Ltd. A Full-service hosting company based in Chicago says that, “We looked at blades but they weren’t cost effective for us because of the special power and cooling requirements. It would have been cost prohibitive for us to rebuild our data center.”

New conventional server deployment requires a lot of planning for power, cooling, network, and space requirements are now practically removed from the equation. Due to the modular nature of Blades, a new Blade connects into the Blade enclosure and immediately has power, network, and a shared management interface.

Conclusion: Blade Servers deliver a lot of bang for the buck and lower your TCO.

4. Virtualization

Right behind TCO, virtualization is getting a lot of airtime these days. Virtualization uses the resources of one very powerful server to power multiple servers. Each virtual server runs as if it had its own memory, disk space, processor, and other resources. Virtualization and Blades is a Data Center match made in heaven since both technologies are modular in nature. This modularity allows workload spreading or isolation amongst server groups. Today’s virtualization products create pools of virtualized servers to spread the load of consolidated services to multiple Blades.

Companies generally deploy Blades to lower costs but are equally deployed because of the ease of moving multiple underutilized conventional servers onto a single server or cluster of servers. This is the process known as consolidation. Consolidation through virtualization and resource pooling are other ways of maximizing utilization and lowering costs.

Conclusion: Virtualization and Blades are the future of Data Center Computing.

5. Vendor Tie-in/Buy-in

This aspect of Blade technology is not something you are likely to hear as hype so much but as a matter of fact. If you choose to employ Blade technology in your Data Center, you must decide either on a vendor or on some other factors that steer you toward a specific vendor. The reason is that a Blade enclosure from vendor A is not compatible with a Blade from vendor B or any other vendor. If you want IBM Blades, then you have to purchase the IBM Blade solution as a whole. The same goes for Sun, HP, or Dell. Once you buy-in to a specific vendor’s Blade solution, tying you to that vendor exclusively.

Mike Bacher agrees stating, “Once you commit to a blade center, you are locked in to one vendor for additional blades, which could be detrimental from a pricing standpoint.”

Conclusion: Once you buy into a solution, it’s yours to keep.

6. Less Space/High Density

Another truth from the Land O’ Hype? This is the main reason for making the switch to Blade Servers for some companies who use shared floor space. Blade computing, also called High-density Computing, can get you 2-4 times the number of servers into the same rackspace than with conventional hardware. Most Blade enclosures take up about 7U of vertical rackspace but are able to utilize space more efficiently by using an edge-on design. The offerings vary among vendors but you will get from 10-14 servers in a single Blade enclosure. This can represent a significant space savings over deploying 14 standard rack mount servers.

Conclusion: Space is Money.

7. Less Time to Deploy and Provision

As discussed in item 3, Blade Servers take far less time to deploy and provision than convention rack mounted servers because their power, network, remote access, and management are all setup as soon as they connect into the Blade enclosure. As soon as a new Blade connects to the enclosure, it’s ready for an OS and an IP Address. The modular configuration makes setup a quick process that requires less skill and hassle to get a new server from box to rack to live server.

Conclusion: Time is Money.

8. Built-in Redundancy

Although this is somewhat vendor-dependent, built-in redundancy is one of the big selling features of Blade technology. As soon as the server is plugged in, you have redundant power, network, and remote access.

Conclusion: Repeat After Me: Redundancy is Good.

9. Less Cabling

This is another winner and big favorite amongst Blade technology adopters. If you have ever looked at a Blade farm compared to the racks of conventional servers, you may be sold on this one point alone. The days of spaghetti cabling and the nightmarish feeling when you realize the hardware guy didn’t label them correctly (or at all) are gone. Bladed racks are well-groomed and a pleasure to work on. This is where the Data Center gets a makeover.

Conclusion: Hold the Spaghetti.

10. Same Horsepower, Smaller Footprint.

It’s true. The same powerful multi-core, multi-socket servers are now available in Blade format. These days Blade Servers sport the same steroid-enhanced muscle as standalone servers and look better doing it. Originally, this was not the case. Blade Servers suffered having a reputation of being weaker and wiser in the Server Realm and they were. As stated earlier, Blade Servers have undergone significant technological and design makeovers. Today’s Blades are meaner, cleaner, and greener than ever before.

Conclusion: Maximum Power in a Small Package.

Beyond the Hype

Some of the issues concerning Blades that you don’t typically hear from vendors are those relating to local storage, power provisioning, and interoperability (mentioned in item 5). Local storage for Blades is very limited. You can usually use two local drives with a maximum capacity of about 250GB each. If your application requires a high degree of disk I/O, then this can be a limiting factor. For file and print services, some web applications, applications that run comfortably from Network Attached Storage, and network services, converting those services to Blades is relatively easy to accomplish.

When a Blade enclosure is ready for use, all the power needed for a fully populated enclosure generally is allocated all at once. Adding Blades to an existing Data Center may cause you to exceed your practical limits for electrical capacity. It is also possible that your wiring, airflow, and cooling capacity have may need some revision before full deployment.

There is currently no standard format, power requirements, or common interface or enclosure for Blade Servers. You can’t mix Sun, IBM, Dell, or Fujitsu Blades in the same enclosure. Server density per enclosure is also vendor-specific. Some offer 10 Blades per enclosure while others can hold up to 14. These numbers are for standard width Blades; the double-wide ones offer half the density per enclosure.


The hot hype du jour and yester-jour regarding Blades is generally true—now. It wasn’t a few years ago. Don’t blame the vendors. They weren’t lying to you; they were just prematurely hyping the technology. Blade technology is here to stay and will get even better with time.

Purchasing, provisioning, and using blades requires a large commitment in terms of money, planning, and personnel. It also requires a change in thinking from traditional servers, power, cabinets, and server management. Should you decide to delve into the fascinating and more fact-filled world of Blade technology, remember this one important bit of advice: Determine your needs then cautiously seek out a vendor that can meet those needs.

Comments on "Hype vs. Hope: 10 Things You Should Know About Buying Blade Servers"


As I sit here and type this, I have a quote in front of me for a new HP blade setup to incorporate approximately 8 servers.

Also next to me I have another quote for 8 HP DL series rack mount servers with the same similar hardware configuration as those in the blade quote.

The price difference up front? How about nearly 30K! THIRTY K!

I understand the power consumption, faster deployment, redundancy and even space advantages of a blade setup. Really I do. However, to make back 30K in actual dollars spent/saved it would take nearly 3 years and by then I’d be looking once again to get into yet another hardware configuration due to aging or soon becoming antiquated gear.

I beleive it’s my duty to reduce our carbon footprint, to become overall more efficient in how i manage systems. However, when it comes to hard dollar savings and showing an organization the ACTUAL cash it will keep in its pockets, prices still need to come down for my org to get into blade.

My comparison is based on HP only. I have yet to look into IBM and heaven forbid –Dell. Maybe I should?

Anyone else have any experiences here? Does anyone feel the cost delta I’m seeing is too great?


Disclaimer- I’m a Sun fan. However, you should at least look at and price the Sun blade servers. The latest Sun AMD-Opteron based blade is quite economical and should compare quite favorably to the HP offerings right now. Plus it will offered very soon with the AMD Shanghai chip which will speed it up even more. All of Sun’s Intel-based and AMD-based blades run all the major Linux flavors.


we recently invested in 2 blade centers fully populated with 32 servers. After evaluating IBM, HP and Dell – settled on Dell. I’ve been pretty much anti-Dell for many years. But they have the most cost effective, power efficient technology on the market today.

$9K for base blade chassis – with some options around $20K AUD. So definitely cheaper than HP solution.

If you are only ever going to run 8 servers – then a blade solution is probably not for you. If you can see yourself populating the blade chassis with another 8 blades then you might want to consider this seriously as an option. The more you buy the cheaper the overall cost will be.

cheers from downunder


Unfortunately Mr. Hess has fallen to the hype.
1 – lower power – with the same CPUs and chipsets, blades are no more power efficient than new servers.
2 – require less cooling – with the same CPUs and chipsets, blades are no more power efficient than new servers.
3 – Lower TCO – if they are more expensive to start with…

In fact only #9 seems to be more thruth than fiction.

New 1/2U servers (dual servers in a 1 U chassis) also support 14 servers in 7U rack space, would have plenty of redundancy, virtualization, etc. But if you want 16 servers, the Twin 1U approach wins by 6U!


To bschulman:

The reason why Blades use less power and require less cooling is due to their design–not hype.

You have to look at the big picture in thinking of TCO–not just up front costs. Switching to Blades, or any different technology, is an up front cash investment. What you’re looking for is long-term payback and savings. Here’s an example:
You need a new pair of shoes and you could buy the $50 pair that lasts 2 years or the $150 pair that will last 10+. Do the math.
Blades are the expensive pair of shoes and will outlast the xU systems and cost less overall. They outlast due to design, lower heat, and some have no moving parts (solid state drives). I’ve done the math–other companies have done the math and Blades are a good investment for those who use a lot of servers. Blades are the future.
And, I would tell you plainly if I thought Blades were all hype–I rarely pull my punches.


It didn’t appear to me that bschulman thought you had pulled your punches: it appeared to me that he simply thought you were wrong.

So do I. To suggest that flash drives offer a cost advantage for any save those rare applications which require high IOPS but relatively little total storage space is ludicrous given their price per GB. To ignore the fact that conventional servers can use the very same power-efficient processors, and 2.5″ drives, and flash drives (when they’re sensible), and at least very similarly efficient power supplies – even after the first of these was explicitly pointed out to you – seems to verge upon incompetence, as does suggesting (as your footwear example appears to) that people pay an up-front premium that locks them into a specific platform for a decade or so, considering the rate at which technology advances. And to tout the packaging density innovation that blades offer while studiously ignoring packaging density innovation in conventional enclosures makes one wonder about your objectivity.

Blades do offer some compelling advantages in ease of physical management, and in some situations this may actually sufficiently offset their higher up-front cost and long-term lock-in to reduce TCO. As for the rest, it still seems pretty much like hype.

- bill


To billtodd:

Sorry you think I’m wrong but…I didn’t suggest that SSDs are great for every situation–but that they last longer generally because they have no moving parts. They run with virtually no heat also. Besides, if you do run conventional servers, you have to have electric, network, and space for each system instead of just plugging in a new new Blade where electric, network, and space are already allocated…so am I really wrong? So, just because someone points out something explicitly to me, does it mean they’re right?

And have you changed platforms in the last 10 years or are you still using x86?


8. Built-in Redundancy
Actually, Blades introduce a new single point of failure, the backplane. Instead of taking out 1 server (rack-mount)for parts replacement, now you have to shutdown the whole enclosure, likely un-related services for part replacement. We had to do this twice already. Normal rack-mount server (at least the one we buy) has redundant power/network anyways.


Hi Kaosphere,

Might I know what blade system do you have? From which vendor. Blades are different from one vendor to another. In addition, as the article states when you start with a blade vendor you are more likely are stuck with him for long term. Its not a one time investment like the normal rack mounted server. So you better know your options right from the first time. For that check out the below comparisons to educated your self of each vendor offering before you make your decision:

Dell Blade system vs hp blade system

Dell Blade system vs IBM blade system

IBM Blade system vs hp blade system

IBM Blade system vs SUN blade system

SUN Blade system vs hp blade system

SUN Blade system vs Dell blade system

I hope that save some of you some time on researching these blade vendors offering. All of them will run for your purchase. Each has his own good and bad. Only you can tell which one fit you the most.

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