Blade servers to support e-commerce

Two years ago, United Title in California, was looking for a load balancer and some Web servers to support a new e-commerce application it was getting ready to launch. The company ended up with a two-fer: a system from load-balancing specialist F5 Networks that just happened to be integrated into blade servers from Hewlett-Packard (HP).

"We didn't have to go out and buy a separate F5 appliance," says Peter Bowman, CIO of Nations Holding Group, which owns the title and escrow services firm. "The F5 solution within the BL10e (blade servers) allowed us to create an environment for the eBusiness infrastructure, and we didn't have to worry about sizing it because you could expand (the number of blade servers) quickly."

Bowman initially brought in 20 blade servers, and today he has 40 in the Equinix data center where he collocates his servers. "We're saving easily probably US$20,000 a year, and that's just on rack cost and electricity," he says. "That's not counting savings in employee time."

United Title is an example of a company that got in on the blade server movement early, but analysts say more companies now are turning to blades.

The slimmed-down servers were introduced in 2001 with great expectations: Blades were expected to change the computing landscape. But that hasn't come to pass -- yet. The slow economy hit the service provider market the blade vendors initially targeted, and enterprise customers tightened their purse strings and pulled back from new technology deployments.

In the past 12 months, however, with major server vendors such as HP, IBM and Sun Microsystems squarely behind blade technology -- and users recognizing the space savings, flexibility and scalability benefits -- all that is beginning to change. Even Dell, whose support of the blade market has been cool since it introduced its first, and only, blade in 2002, plans to release a new blade system by year-end.

"The market is quickly expanding beyond early adopters in the high-performance and technical computing niche as vendors tap into their large installed bases of corporate customers," IDC analysts wrote in an April report on the blade market. "Vendor expectations for blades continue to be extremely positive, and 2004 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for blade adoption; it is expected that the market will undergo a shift from early adopters to more mainstream users."

The research firm expects the blade market to explode in the next few years, growing from about US$600 million in revenue last year to nearly US$9 billion in 2008.

The growing momentum is already apparent. In 2002, just 39,000 blade servers were shipped, accounting for less than 1 percent of the entire server market. Last year, that number jumped to 185,000 shipments, or 3.5 percent of the market. IDC expects blade servers will make up about 40 percent of the server market in the U.S. by 2006.

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