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This apparently never-ending recession’s taken its toll in many different ways, one being the way that a tidal wave of pent-up, frustrated investment is building up behind the damn wall of budgetary constraint. Sooner or later the damn will burst, or at least give way a little, and then you’ll be looking to refresh your servers. The question is, with what? Rack or blade server?

Technology being what it is, things have not stood still while data centres have been biding their time. The decisions you face are not the same ones they were, say, three years ago. Nor are you likely to be shopping with quite the same budget, yet you’ll still be expected to do more with less. What’s also weaker are the ties the big manufacturers struck up with clients. The game has changed indeed.

All that said, there’s still that big IT decision to be made. Rack or blade server? As I say, things move on and the choices may not be as clear-cut as they used to be. Reliability and price are likely to be the main drivers now, although first you have to decide what it is you want to do with your new servers? Is it, for example, more virtualisation? If so you’re not exactly alone. Also, how much room do you have in your data centre? Form factors are also important, being the specification of the server’s motherboard or main system board and including dimensions, power supply type, location of mounting holes and number of ports.

Here’s a brief look at the contenders.

On the rack

Rack servers are still the workhorse of the data centre, whatever may be happening in the clouds. With relatively low cost, combined with adequate processing power and memory, they’re ideal for bread and butter activities – and much more besides. While for virtualisation, they offer easier migration than blades. With their low entry cost you can start on a modest scale and build up later, the ideal way to bed in a new technology. Rack servers score on support and power management, too, as this is normally easier than with blades. Rack servers used to suffer vis a vis blades regarding management features, but a lot of these are automated now so this is no big deal any more. You can always use some element of cloud services anyway.

And choice? It can be overwhelming. HP ProLiant and Dell PowerEdge are both brands that demand a closer look, offering a massive choice of processing power, memory and storage.

Whatever suits U

Meaning you have a big choice in the server rack when it comes to size, too – 1U, 2U or 4U. ‘U’, incidentally, is the unit for measuring for the height of server racks, and refers to the space between the shelves. 1U is 1.75 inches, so a 10U server rack, for example, has 10 rack spaces or 17.5 inches of vertical usable space. Rack, cabinet spaces and related equipment are all measured in U.

Go for 1U if you want an optimum blend of power, economy and versatility that’s ideal for most data centres, especially SMEs. IU can handle day-to-day apps from print and file to web hosting, so why pay more?

The major exceptions are when you need heavy lifting on massive databases, or exceptional virtualisation capacity. In which case, look at the extra ooomph offered by 2U or 4U servers. Again, HP servers and Dell PowerEdge servers offer an excellent choice of specs.

Before deciding, look at processor, memory and drive support, storage expansion slots, power needs, user interface ports, control and indicators and management issues.

Blade server running

A stripped down, modular server unit, the blade server saves space by emphasising processing power, memory and efficiency at the expense of traditional server storage and I/O functions. Smaller in size, the blade server offers more power than rack servers. They’re simpler to manage than rack servers, too, with neater infrastructure and cabling arrangements. Of course, you get what you pay for and blade servers can be expensive. And remember they lack standard rack components like fans and power supplies, and are harder to keep cool, being prone to hotspots.

That said, choose a blade server every time if you’re running low on space but need power. Or if you need high physical density, for example you’re distributing a large load across multiple web servers. If you going down Virtualisation Avenue in a big way, you should also consider migrating to blade servers seriously.

Off to the tower

We should make brief mention of another alternative, tower servers. These are stand-alone servers in an upright cabinet, rather like PC towers. They offer advantages in terms of easier cooling, thanks to low component density, and more scalability as an unlimited number of servers can be added to an existing network.

However, tower servers are bulkier and heavier than equivalent blade or rack servers. They also need more complicated cabling arrangements, while air-cooled tower servers can be noisy as each tower needs a dedicated fan.

Whether you are considering a tower, rack or blade server, 1U or 4U, or a combination of options, we recommend speaking to a team of experts who have years of experience guiding businesses when it comes to server purchases. For advice on all server-related issues, contact Evaris by calling 0330 124 1245, or email sales@evaris.com.

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