Sharpening up the Blade for Virtualization and the Cloud

Arthur Cole
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Top 10 Benefits of Virtualization

Virtualization has taken a firm hold at most enterprises these days, but the fact is we've only just begun to unleash the true potential of the technology.

Lately, many of us tech bloggers have been ruminating on virtualization, the cloud and how it will affect broad network structures like storage and networking.


But what about the server farm? Enterprises across the board have spent much of the last decade replacing mainframes and other massive server architectures in favor of blades, which can be deployed much more quickly and cheaply to meet fluctuating data requirements. However, in an age where virtualization and the cloud enable an even more streamlined resource deployment paradigm, are blade systems in particular coming to the end of the road?


On the one hand, it stands to reason that increased virtualization would tend to favor larger server models, which can be partitioned to a greater degree and, depending on how they are designed and configured, can provide higher energy efficiency and improved data flexibility compared to a roomful of blades. And yet, recent research points to continued healthy demand for blades. Research and Markets predicts a robust 21.5 percent annual growth rate from now until 2014 as enterprises strive to reduce network infrastructure and maintenance costs.


Anyone who doubts the validity of blades in the virtual/cloud future is forgetting one thing, says tech blogger Kevin Houston: high-speed, converged networking architectures are also the wave of the future. This will allow on-board NICs to handle much of the networking, freeing up I/O bays and expansion slots for things like integrated storage networking and enhanced PCIe connectivity. This could lead to increasingly modular designs in which all functions, everything from compute and storage to I/O and power, can be connected to a midplane - or a series of midplanes to avoid catastrophic disruption - where data can be exchanged at line speed with no point-to-point cabling.


Indeed, a look at the latest generation of blades shows no signs of ceding ground in the data center to their larger cousins. NextComputing, for example, has added parallel processing capability to its NextStream device with the addition of Nvidia's Tesla GPU. The design provides for 36 cores on the Intel Xeon and up to 1,344 CUDA cores on the Tesla. At the same time, the company has added support for VMware vCenter Server and vSphere, providing a highly dense 2U platform capable of rapid application deployment and streamlined server management.


The best thing that blade architectures have going in the virtual/cloud era is that they are more closely attuned to the scale-out needs of these new data environments. As long as enterprises place a premium on speed and flexibility rather than raw computing horsepower, the blade should do quite nicely for a while longer.


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