Examining blade server options for Windows Server 2008 R2

It's a question asked with relative frequency: should I implement blade or rackmount hardware for Windows Server 2008 R2? The truth is there's no simple answer.

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Blade servers have cooled off as a category, but they still represent an impor­tant alternative for many cost-conscious IT shops. Most conversations on this topic start with whether to deploy Windows Server 2008 R2 in a blade chassis or go with a cluster of rackmount systems.

The answer: There is no single answer. It depends on the set of features you choose, along with the goals of the organization. Many lower-end blade servers simply can’t support the features and performance that Windows Server 2008 can deliver. And because Windows Server comes bundled with blade hardware more often than a traditional server, it’s important to know the specific features set of­fered by both Microsoft and the hardware manufacturer (see Table 1).

Table1: Recommended configuration for blade servers

Features Foundation Standard Web HPC Enterprise Datacenter Itanium
Max Physical RAM 8 GB 32 GB 32 GB 128 GB 2 TB 2 TB 2 TB
Max Physical CPUs 1 4 4 4 8 64 64
Hot Add Memory No No No No Yes Yes Yes
Hot Replace Memory No No No No No Yes Yes
Hot Add Processors No No No No No Yes Yes
Hot Replace
Processors
No No No No No Yes Yes
Fault Tolerant Memory Sync No No No No Yes Yes Yes

(Source: Microsoft.com)

Another issue to consider in a blade environment is scalability versus performance. In many cases, a blade environment is more capable of hot-swapping memory or processors compared with rackmount hardware. If scalability is a critical component—and it is in many large environments—then working with a chassis-type infrastructure may be the best solution. Data center managers looking to aggressively expand their environment must know what their hard­ware is capable of doing and how they can best leverage their chosen version of Windows Server 2008 R2.

One advantage with blades is that administrators can add more CPU, memory and other hardware resources without having to take the machine down. Hardware profiles can be copied from blade to blade, allowing an entire chassis supporting a large user base to be up and running quickly.

But on the flip side, if you are not looking to expand an environment, then working with rackmount servers may be the best option. Since massive computing power is not required, rackmount servers typically offer the robust data center capabilities that larger organizations routinely require.

This was first published in March 2012

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