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Buying servers for virtual machines? Think blades

You may be considering new blade servers for your virtual host environments, and you are not alone. Gone are the days of the perception that blade servers have less horsepower than their general purpose counterparts. I recently attended a local virtualization user group meeting, and we talked at length about some new blade server products. Here are some takeaways of what virtualization administrators need to know about the new blade products:

Processor and memory inventory

The newest blade servers can run 4 sockets and 4 cores in one blade, and one model in particular that was favorably discussed is the HP ProLiant BL680c series. This is great for virtualization implementations with an incredibly small footprint. With the BL680c, each blade can house up to 128 GB of RAM. ESX 3 and Microsoft Windows Server 2008 are supported operating systems for virtualization implementations for this series of blades. One important note on the HP blade series is the Virtual Connect product for network connectivity. Fellow TechTarget contributor Scott Lowe covers this well in a recent tip.

You have to love the small footprint

With the momentum of virtualization migrations not slowing, the small footprint is very welcome in crowded data centers. The BL680c can have 80 hosts of the speck above in one 40U rack with four enclosures! Using general purpose servers would take at least double the space to get the same number of virtual hosts.


Given the very small footprint of the blade server, there are some limitations to connectivity. While the BL680c excels in most areas, it is limited to only three expansion interfaces for additional networking and fiber channel connectivity. Most implementations, however will be able to meet their connectivity requirements from the available options.

A smaller issue may be power sources. Blade servers will generally take different power sources compared to standard general purpose servers. The trade off is that in feeding a blade server a L15-30P outlet you may not need a power distribution unit (PDU). The PDU may take the same L15-30P interface, so some planning on your power sources and availability to get the correct sources available.

The verdict

The current generation of blade servers are serious contenders for virtualization hosts. The small footprint only makes the case more compelling. As the blades now are able to offer comparable performance specs of the traditional server counterparts, we should consider them for the host hardware environment.

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Hello Rick - I linked to your article and added my two cents over at my site. Thanks!
While I agree with some of your comments regarding blades for virtualization, one of the challenges is still memory scalability and cost. The HPBL680c does hold 128GB of RAM, but is cost $300,000 with that much memory installed because the 8GB dimms are $28,000 a pair. The same configuration in a DL580G5 costs about $65,000 and has more memory, i/o and disk capacity as a bonus. Blades are becoming better for virtualization, but for large scale installations greater than 24 processors in a virtualization farm, 4-socket or even better 8-socket x86 servers still yield a far better TCO.