My brother-in-law David manages a mid-sized construction business, and owns seven or eight servers to handle the data. But don't bother asking him how much data they hold, or what processors they use. In fact, it's pointless to ask anyone in his office; they'll all give the same answer: "I don't know. Ask the Server Guy."
Who exactly is the Server Guy? To an SMB company like David's, Server Guy is the mysterious geek who crawls into a back-office closet clutching two cables and a USB thumbdrive, and emerges fifteen minutes later to declare that email is working again. Server Guy brings IT to the small- and mid-size businesses who either have a 1-man IT department, or depend on part-time or contractor help.
Tam Harbert notes that more and more of these Server Guys are approaching Ingram Micro and asking whether blade servers might be right for the 20-to-100 employee, server-closet crowd. And, Tam says, increasingly the answer is "Yes."
Why? Partly, Tam notes, it's the potential for saving money from their smaller footprint and higher power efficiency. But Arlin Sorensen, president of Heartland Technology Solutions and a Server Guy himself, nails an even bigger reason:
"A lot of our customers aren't equipped to handle the number of servers that they end up having...When you're dealing with 15 different stand-alone servers that were bought at 15 different times, then you have to deal with 15 different experiences in how those things are going to act. The beauty of blades is that the servers all respond and react the same way."
Blades make Server Guy's job EASIER. When you have a jumble of servers, switches, and storage wired together with a rats-nest of connections, the only cross-platform, intuitive management tool that you have is the main circuit breaker on/off switch. Blades change all that -- they give Server Guy a way to maintain servers in a quick, consistent, predicable manner.
Consider all the things Server Guy might be called upon to know. (Martin at BladeWatch did just that recently -- and to me his list is both accurate and daunting.)
But with tools like BladeSystem Onboard Administrator, Server Guy now has graphical, point-and-click tools that let him manage the IT hardware without two hundred hours of classroom training and three expensive industry certifications. Intuitive tools mean Server Guy is more productive.
How? Well, let's say my brother-in-law calls Server Guy and says "it sure seems hot in the server closest." Since most servers have temperature sensors in them, Server Guy could download a bundle of User's Guides, drive down to the office, figure out what settings he needs on a serial cable, plug it into each system, and -- if he remembers all the login passwords -- fetch the temperature readings on each piece of equipment. He could compare those to the tech specs on the hardware maker's web sites, then finally report to my brother-in-law that everything's OK.
Or...he could simply pull up a browser and remotely look at the Bladesystem Onboard Administrator status screen:
No manual needed. The green bar obviously means things are OK. There are little graphical orange and red hash marks -- nicely labeled with temperatures, and "Caution" and "Critical" indicators -- showing how much hotter it would need to be before there's a problem.
The BladeSystem team spends lots of their time developing tools like this, so Server Guy only has to spend a tiny amount of time using them.
Server Guy, if you're out there, let me -- or some of our colleagues -- know what other help you need. Also, call my brother-in-law. He says the Internet is broken again, and the "any" key is missing from his keyboard.
There are a lot of reasons to move to blades and we love to include most, if not all in our typical sales pitch. Power, cooling, space, money, time, flexiblity, yada, yada, yada. But today, I just want to talk about one aspect of Why Blades: Less wires (or 'dramatic cable consolidation' in IT marketing speak)
You probably don't think about wires very often. They're pretty boring. They're pretty common. They're also a pretty big pain in the butt. Watch these videoes and you'll see what I mean.
Sometimes you have to take step back and see something like this to recognize that even small improvements can make a really big difference in your day to day life.
HP blade cut cables up to 94%. That's comparining all the power, network, SAN and management cables you need for 42 typical rack servers versus blade servers. Add something like Virtual Connect to that equation, and you can save several administrators a ton of time in having to deal with moving servers or their LAN and SAN connections. Plus you can add another 4 to 1 consolidation on switches, NICs and core switch ports with Virtual Connect Flex-10.
Do you realize that once your BladeSystem is wired, you many never have to touch a cable again until you decide to take it offline someday? We tell customers all the time, if you're using blades and go with patch panels instead of Virtual Connect or blade switches, you're missing out on one of the biggest advantages of going with blades.
Here's my quick list of why we hate wires:
They cost a lot of money. Long Ethernet cables are pretty expensive, especially multiplied by 100's or 1000's. Don't even get me started on Fibre Channel cables.
Wires connect to other things that cost even more money. Have you checked Cisco's 10Gb core switch prices on a per port basis? Ouch.
Every wire is a potential point of failure. This was really brought home for us the other day when a customer talked about how they eliminated something like 20,000 cables by going to blades. He said, "I don't even know how to start calculating the improvement in 'mean time between failures' (MTBF) of that!!!"
Moving one server means moving a bunch of wires, a bunch of reconfiguring and bunch of time of your other colleagues on the LAN and SAN side. Sometimes it even means moving the wires of other servers you don't want to mess with.
How many hours a year do you figure you spend installing, troubleshooting and untangling wires? Don't you have something better to do? Like checking out the latest on the HP blade blog?
Do you have a cable nightmare story or picture to share? How about a major cable improvement since you moved to blades. Share!