Blade Server Technology Daniel Nilles Herzing


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Blade Server Technology Daniel Nilles Herzing

  1. 1. BLADE SERVERS – PROCESSING POWER IN A DIFFERENT FORM FACTOR 1 th February 24 2010 Blade Servers Processing Power in a Different Form Factor Daniel J Nilles IS185 – Computer Architecture and Troubleshooting Herzing University
  2. 2. BLADE SERVERS – PROCESSING POWER IN A DIFFERENT FORM FACTOR 2 Abstract This paper discusses an interesting progression in computer hardware technology. Advances have made it possible to have the processing power and functionality of a server computer in a slim modular form factor, known as a “blade”. The report will give a brief history of computer technology and introduce and describe what a blade server is. It will consider three main areas of blade server technology; its features, its uses and some advantages. Also considered are some challenges of implementing this technology. Keywords: blade, blade server.
  3. 3. BLADE SERVERS – PROCESSING POWER IN A DIFFERENT FORM FACTOR 3 Blade Servers, Processing Power in a Different Form Factor Have you ever heard the term “think out of the box”? This is what I recommend you do when considering a blade form factor computer. As an IT professional, especially in computer networking you may be called upon to understand and support this technology. Computer hardware advances are moving along at an amazing rate. Consider the first personal computer or PC, introduced August 12th, 1981 by IBM. It ran at 4.77MHz processer speed and had one or two 160 kilobyte 5.25'' disk-drives. Compare this with today, (February 2010) where computers run multiple processor cores and have terabytes of storage capacity available for the user. As computer hardware and software progressed, the need to connect them together or network them, to share information, resources and services from one computer to another was realized. A small company may have only 5 computers connected together, a large cooperation may have thousands of computers connected together in different locations around the world to organize and share data. To accomplish this task, dedicated computers are setup to perform specific jobs. Some may be used to serve in organizing email sent and received to each person in the company, others to run software programs, host web sites or organize databases. Because of this large need, many computer server boxes are required along with all the cables and other hardware to connect everything together; these data centers can fill an entire room. User demand continues to increase and the associated cost to run all these computers and keep them cool can be quite expensive. Thinking out of the box so to speak, blade server computer technology was developed to address space and power requirements while also
  4. 4. BLADE SERVERS – PROCESSING POWER IN A DIFFERENT FORM FACTOR 4 recognizing the need for more computer performance. All of this sounds good, so what exactly is a blade server? A blade server is basically a server computer on a single printed circuit board, designed to be slim and modular, and optimized to use less physical space and energy. Pictured here for example is an “HP ProLiant ML370 G6” series tower computer and an Emerson Network Power “ATCA-7350” blade computer. As with standard computer boxes; power cords, network cables and other I/O cables are plugged into the computer itself. Blade servers are carefully designed and have components removed to optimize space and minimize power consumption. This is realized when we consider for example the approximate width of an ATX computer case being 7” wide in comparison to the width of a blade computer board at 1.2” One could fit 4 blade server computers in the same space as a standard tower computer box! This begs the question, so what do blade computers plug into or fit in? A blade chassis or enclosure is required with slots for the blade server boards to slide into. The blade boards connect to a backplane attached to the back of the chassis, A backplane is a circuit board that contains connectors or sockets for the blade server boards to plug into. This allows each of these servers to communication with one another without the need of extra cables or wires. The backplane also provides a
  5. 5. BLADE SERVERS – PROCESSING POWER IN A DIFFERENT FORM FACTOR 5 connection to power, external networks, storage devices, monitors, keyboards and other services. Because of its design, these backplane circuit boards can allow for high data transfer rates, up to 40Gb/s. Also the blade server chassis has built in cooling and power management features. It is important to note that different blade providers design backplanes, blade chassis’s and server boards to fit their specific system. Blade server boards from IBM will not plug into a blade chassis from HP (Hewlett Packard). But there are blade chassis and backplanes that use standard bus architecture, such as “Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture”, (AdvancedTCA) that will allow blade servers from different providers to plug their boards in the same rack. Blade servers and their features vary depending on the tasks they are designed to perform, like a standard motherboard; blade servers can have a processor, (CPU) or dual CPU’s, which will most likely have dual or quad cores per CPU. Some processors are designed for networking and may have 16 or more cores per CPU chip. Also the blade motherboard may have RAM or high speed cache memory. Because of the importance of data integrity and stability, especially in telecom and server applications the RAM memory used is registered or buffered memory and has address error detection and correction. Blade sever motherboards may also have controller and communication chips so the board can talk to the outside world or other servers, these chips route bus signals such as; 1Gb, 10Gb or Fiber Ethernet, USB, SATA, SAS and PCI Express. Some blade servers may have removable hard drives or flash memory storage on the board as well. Another aspect of blade server technology is that these boards can be designed to be removed and replaced from the blade chassis without powering down the whole system, they are hot swappable. These basically become a
  6. 6. BLADE SERVERS – PROCESSING POWER IN A DIFFERENT FORM FACTOR 6 Field Replaceable Unit, (FRU) which could then be sent to a service center, repaired and swapped back in at a later time. With this processing power, flexibility and functional, we now start to realize the potential that blade servers and blade technology can offer. Let’s focus on some uses and real world applications. One field that is growing very fast is Virtualization. Software creates a number of virtual operating systems or virtual machines on one or more computer servers. According to Barb Goldworm, industry analyst and author of Blade Servers and Virtualization, “Blades and server virtualization have become very hot topics within IT organizations and the data center as strong foundational building blocks to address issues that have been challenging IT for years… I take this large number of underutilized servers, I consolidate them using server virtualization – so now I can run four to 20 virtual servers on one physical server.” (Goldworn, 2007). Another segment that is starting to benefit from blade design is “cluster computing”, this where many computers are closely linked together to share processing power and resources to form a single super computer. Agencies like NASA or projects from “CERN”, (European Organization for Nuclear Research) that need to analyze large amounts of data for scientific research would benefit from the performance, power and efficiency of blade technology. Also, Web hosting services, Telecom, where the need to route voice and data are important. Universities and hospitals could benefit from the flexibility of a blade server system, as the student base or hospital staff grows, upgrading by hot swapping in additional servers would be a very desirable feature. One interesting use is that of digital video surveillance data storage and retrieval used by law enforcement, gaming and financial organizations. These examples highlight that blade
  7. 7. BLADE SERVERS – PROCESSING POWER IN A DIFFERENT FORM FACTOR 7 technology has and will have many uses. The advantages besides the scalability, small form factor and power savings, include; simplified chassis cabling, standard rack mount server box’s while helping keep servers in a central location, create a wiring challenge. Blade servers because of the use a central backplane can reduce cable and wire requirements greatly. According to HP Bladesystem How to guide, for medium-sized businesses, up to 87.5% cable savings can be had from an HP ProLiant 8 server setup to an HP Blade system. While blade technology does offer many advantages, one has to have a balanced view. There are challenges to implementing blade systems, as mention earlier is the current proprietary nature when it comes to providers of blade systems. You could not install an IBM blade server board in an HP, (Hewlett Packard) chassis. Another challenge is in cooling blade servers, you essentially have 5 – 12 or more server computers in slots right next to each other with multiple CPUs, RAM memory and high speed communication chips per board that generate heat. The heat generated needs to be removed from the blade chassis as efficiently as possible. High-speed fans or fan trays are used that can monitor temperature and increase or decrease air flow to the system. Some blade rack designs incorporate liquid cooling as part of the rack to remove the heat, the IBM iDataPlex rack being one. Finally consider your need, if you have a small business that only requires a simple server. The blade server may not make sense at this time. In conclusion, computer hardware technology has advanced incredibly in the last 29 years from the introduction of the IBM PC to servers and data centers handling thousands of users and terabytes of data and virtual machines running with the aid of
  8. 8. BLADE SERVERS – PROCESSING POWER IN A DIFFERENT FORM FACTOR 8 blade servers. As we continue to think out of box, blade technology will continue to progress as well, providing many benefits over current rack mount server computers. Power savings, reduced space and scalability to name a few. While benefits are many, there are also challenges, as with any new technology. Cooling all this computing power located in a relatively small space being one. Also making blade chassis and backplanes standardized, still these issues are being addressed. So the next time you hear the term to “think out of the box”, recall blade servers and look ahead to new applications for this technology!
  9. 9. BLADE SERVERS – PROCESSING POWER IN A DIFFERENT FORM FACTOR 9 References Timeline of computer history-ibm introduced its pc. (2006). Retrieved from Personal computer announced by ibm. (1981, August 12). Retrieved from Ibm bladecenter js23 and js43 express. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www- Hp proliant ml370 g6 server series - overview. (n.d.). Retrieved from 3884310.html ATCA-7350 ATCA quad-core processing blade. (n.d.). Retrieved from US/Products/Product_Detail/Product1/Pages/EmbCompATCA- 7350.aspx?8109C=United%20States&SNL2=AdvancedTCA+- +Embedded+Computing&L2=AdvancedTCA&SNL1=Embedded+Computing&L1=Embedded+C omputing Advancedtca specifications for next generation telecommunications equipment. (n.d.). Retrieved from Octeon ii internet application processor (iap) family. (2010). Retrieved from Blade server technology overview. (2009). Retrieved February from Schutling, C. (2006, October 26). Blade servers in the enterprise. Retrieved from
  10. 10. BLADE SERVERS – PROCESSING POWER IN A DIFFERENT FORM FACTOR 10 Beal, V. (2005, May 19). Blade servers- a quick reference. Retrieved February 3rd, 2010 from: Goldworm, B. (2007). Blade servers and virtualization: transforming enterprise computing while cutting costs. Wiley. Server virtualization and blades server benefits. (2007, March 18). Retrieved from,295582,sid99_gci1247900,00.html The Large hadron collider . (2008). Retrieved from en.html Digital video surveillance solution from datacom systems. (2006). Retrieved from hp bladesystem for medium-sized businesses - business. (n.d.). Retrieved from Ibm idataplex dx 360 m2. (2008, July). Retrieved from http://www-