Monday, August 31, 2009

Sample argument for a Blade Center

Here is a sample discussion paper I wrote to assist a First Nation Community in evaluating a blade center approach to infrastructure.  The name of the community and identifying details have been altered or removed.

What the following post highlights is that the model changes with blades and virtualization to the positive.  However, an organization’s thinking must change to achieve these benefits.


The Community administration’s is looking at strategies to upgrade their server infrastructure.


There are currently 11 servers within the community at different stages of their lifecycle. Many are end of life and present a critical risk in the event of failure. The traditional method of creating a business case for each server is both time consuming and may be preventing future opportunities. This briefing note will attempt to demonstrate another alternative.

How does it work today?

In today’s environment when a server becomes end of life the organization is faced with several challenges. The first challenge is to understand the role of the server. Is the role of the server mission critical? Some of the servers today are considered mission critical. The more mission critical a server is the shorter its outages can be. These servers perform functions like email, accounting, grades, Firewall, printing, file sharing etc. Each and every one has its role to play and it may or may not be able to be offline. Only the organization can make that assessment.

Once this assessment is done, then the organization has to determine how big and expandable does the new server have to be to last until that platform is end of life. The recommended recycle time for critical servers is three years. If you follow this approach the first years of the server implementation the server is running well below optimum, the second year it starts to realize full performance and somewhere in its third year the server will start to become strained from overuse. This is a typical scenario and is repeated for each and every server. These ebbs and flows are constant in the industry.

To address this static hardware replacement strategy the industry is now deploying what is called blade centers. These blade centers take the best of today’s hardware and packages them so they can fulfill the needs of many servers on one hardware configuration. This virtualization of physical servers to many logical servers is well demonstrated and proven in the industry. The technology has been proven and it is being used right here on Manitoulin Island at Manitoulin Transport. They were able to consolidate over 100 pieces of equipment down to 10 pieces of equipment while at the same time expanding their services offerings.

Costing Sample

The following table demonstrate the costing model difference between upgrading 11 servers independently verses using one blade center. The blade center described is capable of running 18 servers of the type and model being utilized by the community currently. I have chosen 18 due to the fact more servers are actually being recommended by all the major vendors today. It will also allow the community to build testing environments without having to purchase new hardware.

blade costs

As you can see the second year of the model the cost structure dramatically switches in the favour of blade centers. If you factor in additional servers then the case for blade center is proven sooner. The third and out years are even more favourable to blade centers.

Benefits of Blade Centers

  1. Centralized control and management
  2. Cost savings
  3. Centralized Backup
  4. Back and recovery per server is consistent and resilient
  5. Annual incremental increases verses sporadic larger capital costs.
  6. Autonomous building of servers
  7. Integrated security
  8. Improved network performance and resilience
  9. Reduced support costs
  10. Small form factor
  11. Reduced energy costs
  12. Reduced heating and air conditioning requirements
  13. Industry adopted
  14. Many vendors to support the platform and its implementations
  15. Increase the number of servers with minimal or no additional costs
  16. Increased flexibility for your technology rollouts
  17. Hardware independence from your operating systems. Bigger benefit in the Microsoft world.

Burdens of Blade Centers

  1. New skills are required to maintain the platform
  2. Software to build the platform will need to be purchased
  3. Migration project will need to be undertaken to port the existing 11 servers to a common platform
  4. Organizational policy change to support central housing and shared resources
  5. Governance structure for support and backup rotations
  6. Annual operational dollars will need to allocated to sustain the platform


The cost of hardware is plummeting but the challenge of effective use of hardware is ongoing. By adopting a blade center strategy, the community can reduce costs, increase effectiveness and provide a long term platform for the entire community. Each of the current 11 servers is important and their ongoing support and functions are critical to the overall community. A proactive and long term view to their deployment will have a positive impact for the community.

Next Steps

  1. Agree to the strategy
  2. Build a requirements list for the platform
  3. Build a RFP
  4. Source the platform
  5. Build the migration plan
  6. Perform the migration

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