SMB Extra recently asked Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst of The StorageIO Group in Stillwater, Minn., about blade server technology and what it might mean for the SMB.

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SMB Extra: Okay, so how exactly did blade servers come into being, and how are they different from past server technologies?

Greg Schulz: You want to see the future, look in the past. You go and look at a traditional, a legacy server. What do you see? A bunch of server blades. The thing is each blade was a processor. Today, those blades have been reduced down to multi-core chips. So in the past, those blades each made up one server. With enhancements, now you can put the equivalent of a server onto a chip, that chip can go on one board, and that board can go on a blade in that blade centre. The cabinet is now the blade centre or server centre, if you will. You can put more servers in that same footprint, but those servers can now share common power, common cooling, and common infrastructure. And you get the economies of scale and some environmental benefits too.

SMB E: Are SMBs actually taking advantage of blade server technology?

GS: First of all, what is an SMB? If we look at the small business, they’re just starting to leverage blade servers. If you look at the medium sized businesses, absolutely, that’s been a very popular spot as you move into the enterprise, the workgroups and areas like that. But a business with, say, a dozen to maybe two to four dozen servers could be a medium-sized business. Do you go by the number of servers, the number of employees, the amount of data they have, their revenues? I know businesses that have 100 employees but run hundreds of terabytes of data with hundreds of servers. Or a company might have 1,000 employees but only a dozen servers. It depends on what they’re doing.

SMB E: What will it take for this technology to catch on?

GS: Blade servers, as we have known them, are certainly moving down market. What HP announced last week combining a blade server with a storage server in one small, integrated package is interesting. In the past you had blade servers, but with a blade with a couple of disk drives on it, or a blade server with an external array. What HP now has is a blade server with smaller blades. There are less of them, but then there’s room for the actual storage module to go in too. But it’s in a small, easy-to-use form factor.

SMB E: Will the concept be popular?

GS: I think it will be, and here’s why: you go into the small business, all the way down to and including SOHO, and that is a very viable place because a small office might have two to five servers. If they can consolidate that into one of these types of devices, upgrade their storage capabilities, and have that all essentially as a little data centre in a box, to me it’s analogous to a multifunction printer with the printer, scanner, copier and fax machine. Where are these popular? Not just because they’re affordable. They don’t take up a lot of space, and they’ve got a lot of different capabilities.

SMB E: Will users have to build up more infrastructure for their data centres to make use of blades?

GS: That’s part of the key, in particular to get more into that mass market which really is the lower part of the SMB market. From SOHO on up, that’s a really broad market. Those environments now don’t have to build a data centre. They build up. Instead of having all those servers stacked on a folding table somewhere or sitting on shelves or countertops in the coffee room, now they can set aside some space, maybe even take a closet and turn that into a mini-data centre with some cooling. They don’t have to go to a more sophisticated type of environment.

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