Capital University’s JEFF GUILER eased space constraints and applications demands with blades technology.
Aug 14 2008

Colleges Warm to Blades

Technology has a domino effect on IT savings.

For Spoon River College CIO Raj Siddaraju, replacing old rack-mounted servers with new blade servers is a bit like getting rid of a gas-guzzling sport utility vehicle and replacing it with a smaller, more fuel-efficient hybrid car.

Similar to hybrids in the car industry, blade servers run on less power than their traditional counterparts. They also don’t need as much cooling as conventional servers, which means lower power and cooling costs for IT operations. For Siddaraju, going green in the IT department is also a priority.

“By going green, we save money and contribute to energy conservation. Accomplishing both are big pluses and one of our factors for choosing blades,” says Siddaraju, whose community college in Canton, Ill., educates about 3,500 students.

Blades, first released in 2001, are slim servers that feature their own processor, memory and storage, but they slide into a chassis, where they share resources such as power supplies, cooling fans or blowers, and connections to networking and data-storage systems. The blade architecture conserves data center space and is much easier to manage because it reduces cabling and because new software management tools allow IT administrators to centrally manage and monitor the health of each blade server. Blades, combined with virtualization software, also improve the utilization of server resources, bolster uptime and help consolidate physical servers.

Because of those benefits, Siddaraju decided to standardize on blades last summer when seven of his college’s 20 rack-mounted servers reached the end of their lifecycle.

“With blades, I can save energy. I can consolidate all my servers into one chassis, so there’s less of a hardware footprint. And it’s much easier to manage than having to manage each server individually,” he says.

Capital University Saves on Capital Costs

Last year, Jeff Guiler, senior director of IT at Capital University, decided it was time to invest in blade servers to handle his college’s increased demand for new applications and to deal with his data center’s space constraints. He estimates that his decision has already saved the college about $225,000. “With all the different requests for applications, we felt this was the least expensive route,” he says.

Capital University, a private college in Columbus, Ohio, purchased 10 IBM BladeCenter HS20 and HS21 blade servers and a BladeCenter E Series chassis that holds as many as 14 blades. He purchased a second chassis and three more blade servers for the university’s law school. For data storage he purchased a storage area network (SAN), specifically the IBM System Storage DS4000, which can store up to 8 terabytes of data.

Guiler says he’s capitalizing on all the benefits of blade technology. “It gives us huge flexibility with what we can do in our limited space in the data center, and it reduces the heat and power and the network cabling requirements,” he says.

In addition, IBM’s web-based management software gives him one central place to remotely manage and monitor the blades, which allows him to troubleshoot much more quickly than he could with his rack-mounted servers. To further bolster the blades’ effectiveness, Guiler implemented virtualization software, technology that partitions a server so it can run multiple applications simultaneously.

Virtualization software slices a server into multiple virtual machines (VMs). While each VM shares the same server resources, such as processors and memory, the VMs run their own operating systems and applications independent of each other. Historically, IT departments have run one application for each server, so virtualization improves server utilization and allows colleges to save money by having to purchase fewer servers.

Guiler spent $75,000 on the blades and SAN, but if he had gone with rack-mounted servers, it would have cost four times as much, he says.

Improved Server Utilization

Spoon River College’s CIO RAJ SIDDARAJU has seen more uptime with blades.


For Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine, server utilization increased from an average of 5 to 7 percent to 60 to 70 percent, thanks to blades and virtualization, says Timothy Antonowicz, the college’s senior systems engineer.

Deploying blades with virtualization has saved Bowdoin $50,000 to $100,000 a year in power costs alone, a total of $500,000 for hardware costs, and $2 million to $3 million from not having to build a new data center, according to Antonowicz.

“Before virtualization, we were running out of data center space and either had to consolidate servers or build a new data center,” he says.

Through virtualization, the college has reduced the number of physical x86 servers from 72 Intel-based servers to between 15 and 20. About 135 VMs are running in the blades with virtualization.

Bowdoin began deploying blades in 2004 and in four years has migrated 75 to 85 percent of its applications to blades. The college initially standardized on Hewlett-Packard’s p-Class blades, but over the past year has switched to HP’s new c-Class blade architecture, which offers more sophisticated system-management capabilities and improved power and cooling features.

For example, the blades feature multiple thermal sensors in each chassis and can pinpoint and deliver cool air to areas that need it. Traditionally, blade servers monitored heat output for the entire chassis, so if one blade needed cooling, the entire enclosure was cooled down, which consumed more power than necessary.

Intelligence built into blades also helps save energy. For example, a chassis has six power supplies. If only two blades are running in a chassis, the blades are smart enough to reduce the power requirement and turn off the power supplies that are not needed, Antonowicz says. In contrast, with a single rack-mounted server, the power supply will draw full power regardless of whether the server is being used or not.

Redundancy is also a huge benefit for blades. Each chassis, for example, has redundant network uplinks, so if one fails, the others can take over.

Virtualization Migration Continues

At Spoon River, Siddaraju purchased five IBM BladeCenter HS21 blades, featuring Intel Xeon Dual Core 1.6-gigahertz processors and 4 gigabytes of memory; a chassis that houses 14 blades; and an IBM System Storage DS3400 SAN that currently holds 3.6 terabytes of storage but is expandable to 14.4TB.

The IT staff has begun migrating the college’s applications to the blades, including web servers, a course-management system for online learning and the Windows domain server.

By next summer, Siddaraju hopes to deploy virtualization and migrate most of the school’s existing applications, including Microsoft Exchange, onto the blades. By going virtual, Spoon River will need to purchase only three more blades to migrate the school’s applications. When the project is completed, Siddaraju estimates that he will reduce power consumption by 30 to 35 percent. He’s already seen improved reliability and uptime and increased productivity from the IT staff.

“I’ve been impressed with them,” he says. “For all our requirements, we get a lot of bang for the money.”

Blades Are Taking Off

Worldwide blade sales are expected to quadruple, from 620,000 units in 2006 to 2.4 million by 2011, according to a November 2007 report by iSuppli, a market research firm in El Segundo, Calif. That’s a compounded annual growth rate of 31.5 percent. Blades will account for 21.6 percent of all servers shipped by 2011, the firm says.

Server Virtualization Soars

Half of enterprise IT departments are using x86 server virtualization today, and two-thirds will do so by 2009, according to a 2007 Forrester Research survey. Enterprises already deploying the technology have virtualized 24 percent of their servers today and expect to virtualize 45 percent by 2009.