Servers have changed the way businesses operate, allowing them to increase the number of applications they can use. Aimed at businesses of all sizes, servers do much of the heavy lifting for computer systems. They can store applications and documents and allow users to call those files up from their desktops. Servers also can store everyone’s data in a central location, making it available to anyone who needs it.

By adding servers to existing networks, users can improve speed and use more applications. Otherwise, when a computer or laptop houses everything locally, it collectively uses more processing power and, ultimately, runs more slowly. Servers allow for shared resources that can help facilitate e-mail, document sharing, printer sharing, data storage, backup and recovery, and many other functions.

In a typical server setup, the connection to the Internet is made through a firewall attached to the server. The server then oversees the local area network (LAN) that connects to all of the users.

Although traditional servers still are used and are important, new versions have entered the marketplace. The blade server is one advance in server technology. Blade servers function similarly to typical servers, but they occupy a tighter space and are more energy efficient.

A traditional server contains all of the power, cooling, processing and storage needs to service all of the users. As the system grows, a number of servers can be networked together.

Blade servers, in constrast, are based on using separate plug-in circuit cards for each application. The cards connect to a blade chassis, which provides power, cooling and network connections for all of the cards that can fit into it. These functions are distributed to a backplane that has plug-in connectors for the cards, resulting in a smaller server.

“Blade servers are just like standard servers in that they have all of the same parts, such as processors, memory, disk, I/O, CD-ROMs, power supplies, etc.,” said Scott Tease, worldwide product marketing manager, IBM BladeCenter. “But many of the redundant components, like the CD/DVD, power and cooling, have been stripped off of the blade and reside in the blade chassis where they are then shared with other blades. Blades slide right into the chassis, and when you put a server blade inside the chassis, you get the exact equivalent of a big, standard server. But, it is easier to set up, maintain, and it requires less power to both operate and cool.”

Steve Gillaspy, group manager, HP BladeSystems, said, with a blade server, only the enclosure has to be plugged in.

“The old way of installing a server into a rack involved pulling cable to that rack and then connecting each cable. That was a lot of labor once you started adding up all of the servers that needed to be connected that way,” he said.

Cable consolidation

Blades are modifying what contractors do, not reducing their requirements, Tease said. While they result in less cabling work at the server itself, this won’t affect the work of most contractors.

From the end-user perspective, blades can save big money in terms of the labor associated with internal rack and server cabling. Budget-crunched end-users truly appreciate not having to manually plug in hundreds of cables.

“In terms of savings, in addition to labor, are power and cooling,” Gillaspy said. “In fact, blades are about 30–40 percent more efficient (in terms of power and cooling) than their rack-mount counterparts.”

Blade servers have applications outside of traditional data centers, as well, which is increasing their popularity.

“Small data closets with a handful of servers are powering many small office locations and these closets that are low on space are well suited for blades,” Tease said. “For example, places like a doctor’s office that have a small closet housing their six servers do not have a lot of space, but still need to store a lot of data. Blades fit well in these smaller companies that are working to meet the demand for many servers.”

“The benefits of blades are easy to prove, and there are tangible savings associated with them,” Gillaspy said.

Contractors should view blades as another component within data centers and closets that they need to know, he said.

“Getting education upfront about blades will help them in understanding that they are just another part of what they are already doing,” Gillaspy said.

Although these peripheral technologies may seem outside of a typical electrical contractor’s bag of tricks, they are not. It all comes down to cable and power requirements—the electrical contractor’s specialty.

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at jennifer.stong@comcast.net.