Defining edge

They might have a lot to offer large enterprises, but blade servers in the Middle East remain restricted to a small part of the market, whose budgets have been curtailed by the recession. The question is, will they be the next big thing when the economy recovers?

Tags: Blade serverFujitsu Technology Solutions - UAEHewlett-Packard CompanySun Microsystems IncorporationUnited Arab Emirates
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Defining edge Consolidation, virtualisation, manageability, availability and performance are some of the expectations of regional enterprises from blade technology. - Chandan Mehta, product manager at Fujitsu Technology Solutions.
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By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  November 12, 2009 Network Middle East Logo

They might have a lot to offer large enterprises, but blade servers in the Middle East remain restricted to a small part of the market, whose budgets have been curtailed by the recession. The question is, will they be the next big thing when the economy recovers?

They are the cutting-edge of technology, and if you would believe some vendors in the industry, blade servers can be a boon in almost every organisational data centre.

“Products and services connected with blades enable IT organisations and data centres to be time-smart, energy-thrifty, change-ready and cost-savvy,” said Ayman Dwidar, ISS value, blades business unit manager at HP Middle East.

To add to the capabilities that they already possess, major server vendors have been working to improve blade technology over the last year and a half.

“Some of the changes in blade technology and capabilities over the last 18 months include the introduction of Intel Xeon 5500 processors (changing the specifics of blade servers), blade chassis supporting different blades (affecting blade density and support for different architecture) and support for more IO ports for demanding applications. There is increased flexibility, introduction of virtualisation technology into blades and the introduction of greener technologies consuming less power and less heat emission,” said Chandan Mehta, product manager at Fujitsu Technology Solutions.

Despite their obvious advantages and the new capabilities that they boast, blades have not been adopted as widely in the Middle East as some vendors would have you believe and others have been hoping for some time. In fact, according to server revenue figures from both IDC and Gartner for the second quarter of this year, rack-style servers remained the top form factor across most of the world, including the Middle East and Africa.

“Adoption of new technologies, such as blades, takes time. Our customers need to see some real proof that this technology can make their business more competitive. It should also be mentioned that blades are not appropriate for all customers, and unless the customer deploys more than four to six servers, rack servers may be more cost-effective,” said Patrick Swoboda, volume products manager, SEE at Sun Microsystems.

Dwidar adds, “Although the benefits of blades are enormous organisations have to take steps to get the best out of them. There has to be an initial investment; moreover, concentrating large computing power in a small footprint puts huge demands on the data centre itself from power and cooling perspectives. Blades offer the best platform for consolidation which is, in itself, a great challenge that needs planning, preparation and time. Another important reason for lower adoption of blades is that the adoption of virtualisation technology in the region remains relatively low compared to Europe or the Americas. Blades are the optimum platform for virtualisation. All of the previous reasons might affect the adoption of blades in the region.”

Additionally, since blades are largely a medium for consolidation, the large percentage of small and medium businesses (SMB) that dominate the Middle East industries find no benefit in them; restricting their usage to significantly larger enterprises.

As Mehta points out: “Most businesses in this region are still SMBs where the requirement does not go beyond two to three servers. For this, rack optimised servers are the best. Even with virtualisation gradually picking up, the trend is going to remain with a few powerful rack servers rather than blades for SMBs.”

Only for a few

This market reality restricts blade adoption to a minority in the region. However, the few large organisations that are taking to blades are doing so for specific reasons linked to higher productivity.

“We see all major enterprises now investing in blade technology. It is not yet the biggest part of the business but it is steadily growing as more and more benefits emerge out of the technology. Companies deploying four or more servers realise that blades are a better choice than rack servers because they provide unified management, support for different types of processors and operating systems in the same chassis, and better energy efficiency because of power and cooling cost reductions,” said Swoboda.

Typical usage patterns in the data centre for blades include everything from classic infrastructure to high-end database solutions, and opportunities continue to grow for blades in enterprises. According to vendors, this is largely due to the fact that there is absolutely no discrepancy between what organisations expect from their blade infrastructure and what these solutions can actually provide.

“Consolidation, virtualisation, manageability, availability and performance are some of the expectations of regional enterprises from blade technology. Currently, there are no discrepancies between expectations and what the technology can actually provide,” said Mehta.

Blades – making them sharper

Buying blades? Here are some tips to get the most from your investment:

• Study capabilities and execute as many permutations and combinations of cubes or blade environments as possible through separate projects, in order to maximise their investment.

• Choose solutions that will provide you the most agility in your business environment.

• Run pilots with any blades or blade-related solutions that you are considering.

• Pick software and management tools that provide you the greatest visibility and help you reduce manual tasks within the data centre.

• Ideally, pick software that allows you to monitor and manage energy.

• With hardware, test and choose the ones that help minimise your power consumption, maximise your virtualisation potential and aid you in getting the most out of your budget.

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