When it comes to the adoption of SMB-targeted blade servers, some are saying the recent introduction of two full-solution offerings from HP and IBM (see this issue’s feature story) represents the kick-start the technology needs to raise its profile among smaller users.

Still, these releases might be best described as opportunistic moves at this point; there’s little penetration of blades in small businesses today.

According to James Staten, a principal analyst at Forrester Research who is based in Foster City, Calif., even if you look at the enterprise, blades still represent only about 15 per cent of what’s currently installed.

“That’s just a microcosm of what it’s going to be like in small business, so to think that we’re going to see more than 5 per cent of SMB systems being blade-based in the next 12 months is maybe too optimistic.”

Here are some of the reasons blades may take some time to pick up a huge amount of market share in the near term.

Have to convince the big guys first

There’s still significant resistance to the blade server approach from many large organizations.

First, they’re not standard systems, and that’s a challenge for organizations that have standardized “on a commodity, one- or two-use system, where that is their default,” says Staten. “A lot of times organizations have done that because they want to be able to buy from multiple vendors. And there’s no such thing as interoperability between blades today.”

In addition, even though the blades themselves consume less power, the blade chassis consumes far more power (due to its processing density) than the same amount of rack space that traditional servers would consume. This means you can put less chassis in the same rack in your data centre. “It’s kind of a weird one because the amount of servers when you add up all the blades that you’re actually putting in a rack is actually more, but that’s not how facilities people necessarily think.”

A lack of options

Staten says the new SMB solutions that HP and IBM have introduced are very useful for VARs who will ultimately be installing many them because they use power more efficiently, are easy to plug in and are well designed, but there are still only two real options to choose from.

There’s no reason you should discount Sun or Dell as a viable offering for small business, says Staten, but as yet they haven’t wrapped their blade systems with the same kind of packaging, offerings and special incentives that VARs would really want before taking them out to small businesses.

“It’s just a matter of time. If Dell and Sun think those are important to them, and it’s probably more likely that Dell will than Sun, then they’ll put that kind of a package together.”

Will they play nice together?

On the negative side, any compute blades you put in the blade chassis all have to be from the same vendor. You can’t mix and match Dell, IBM, HP and Dell blades of that type.

On the positive side, you can put other types of blades in there and they can be from different vendors. You can put in switch blades and security services blades and other single-purpose blades like that in, says Staten.

“You may a VLAN blade that will have 16-32 physical connections, and it can quadruple the number of VLANs that [the system can use]. You may want to have a firewall blade, or you may want to have storage blades. You can get a tape drive that fits into a blade slot and so you’re backup is fully contained within the blade chassis.”

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