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For Jancewicz's shop, the pizza box storage they already used offered more flexibility. "When we max out the VM, we don't worry about adding any additional guests to it," he explains. "We still get the benefits of virtualization."

Blade technology is proprietary, despite what you might hear about industry-standard servers. Matthew Ushijima, director of network operations at Northlake, IL-based Empire Today LLC, issued this warning to his IT peers: "Make sure your storage vendor has done thorough testing on the very specific technology you are implementing." Being aware of the proprietary nature of your hardware is crucial, he says. "Look for a vendor that shares parts commonality between their rack mount and blade hardware."

And the savings aren't guaranteed. Plenty of users are surprised by the cost of a blade project, says Anne Skamarock, research director at Boulder, CO-based Focus Consulting and co-author of Blade Servers and Virtualization: Transforming Enterprise Computing While Cutting Costs. "A fully populated blade system may require more cooling and power than a fully loaded rack system," she cautions. And if you don't have a SAN in place, you should establish one as the foundation for a blade project, adds Skamarock.

"That's an upfront investment you should make as you prepare for a growth strategy with blades," she says. Many analysts will tell you that

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real returns on blades can only be seen when you buy enough blades--more than eight--to cancel the price of the chassis.

Cleaning up with blades
Blade technology is moving along quickly, with new advancements hitting the market about every two years since 2000, says Skamarock. Last year, Framingham, MA-based IDC reported that blades were the fastest selling server segment, and predicted they would account for 25% of all server sales in the next three years. Of course, the popularity of virtualization--a natural technology companion to blade infrastructures--is helping to drive the adoption of blades.

"What we're finding is that people are asking us 'How would we go about transitioning from a siloed environment to a virtualized, bladed environment?'" says Skamarock.

While blade projects can't be guaranteed to always lower your power and cooling costs, many blade enthusiasts say the smaller data center footprints make them a worthwhile investment. For Gentry Ganote, CIO at Golf & Tennis Pro Shop (GTPS) Inc., the consolidation resulted in obvious cost savings as they relate to staffing.

A couple of years ago, GTPS started growing quickly due to the expansion of its PGA Tour Superstores at key golf locations across the country. "We were growing and had a lot of one-use servers that we were putting in the data center. We're basically a [Microsoft] shop, and every time we needed to do something we would add a new server," says Ganote. Each one of those provided about a half a gig of storage, and he says they finally realized they didn't want to die or choke from server sprawl.

This was first published in July 2008

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