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Bricks or blades?

Bricks (standard rack-mount servers) are a known entity. You’ve been buying and deploying them forever. You are comfortable with bricks.

Blades (blade servers) are cool. They’re small. They look really neat in your rack. Your vendor really wants you to buy blades.

The question is, which platform is right for your virtual infrastructure? I’m here to say that, for the majority of environments, blades are the right answer. Why’s that, you ask? Well, it’s really pretty simple. Virtualization is all about simplifying your environment. It’s about having consistency in platform and in process/procedure. It’s about rapid provisioning and rapid recovery from failures. It’s all about commoditizing your IT infrastructure to enhance support to your line of business applications.

That’s what it all boils down to. Who really cares if I have greater expansion capabilities in a brick server than I do in a blade? The key is I have enough expansion capability in a blade! I can configure a blade with enough CPU, RAM and redundant network and storage connectivity to satisfy all but the most demanding environments — physical or virtual.

So, what do blades buy me? Quite a bit! Here are a few examples of clear benefits of blades over bricks:

  • Rapid provisioning. Once you have the enclosure integrated into your environment, adding a new blade is a simple matter of plugging it into the enclosure. Brick servers require pulling of cables (power, network, storage) and time for someone to rack the thing. (OSHA requirements call for a two-man lift on many brick servers.)
  • Automated failover. Some vendors allow you to create a redundant array of inexpensive blades (RAIB). With a RAIB, you configure your environment with one or more “hot spare” blades. In the event of a blade failure, the infrastructure automatically provisions the spare blade as a replacement for the failed blade. In a matter of minutes, you’re back up and running.
  • Simplified replacement. It’s easy to replace a failed blade server. Take 10 minutes and you can train anyone to do it. Post a “cheat sheet” next to a blade enclosure in your remote office/branch office (ROBO) and your local admin assistant can do it. Now, rather than having local IT staff or flying someone out to replace/repair the system, simply ship a new blade along with instructions on how to replace it. All the hard stuff is taken care of remotely.

I know, I hear you out there saying, “With blades, I have vendor lock-in.” I say hogwash! How do blades lock you in to a vendor any more than brick servers? Especially when you’re dealing with a virtual infrastructure? Think about it: What is it that prevents you from changing platform vendors? Is it really better technology? Or better performance? Probably not. Most people stick with a vendor because of the relationship they have with that vendor.

When a change in enterprise platform vendor happens, it’s usually for one of the following reasons:

  • Change in leadership within the IT department
  • Your current vendor screws something up really badly
  • A new vendor offers a dramatically lower cost than you are currently paying

Switching vendors is expensive! You have to learn how to deal with a whole new ecosystem, including purchasing, delivery, maintenance and management. You’ve got to retrain your staff on the new management tool set. Absolutely nothing that has to do with server form-factor.

To summarize … blades have the guts to handle the workload. They offer simplified lifecycle management. They improve your IT organization’s ability to support your Line of Business applications. What’s not to like?

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