Question: Blade servers seem to be getting a lot of attention lately, due mostly to their ability to scale up quickly and easily. But aren't there still many environments in which a traditional rack-mount, or even a tower, would suffice, and at a better price point?
King: Sure. Blade servers are really aimed at businesses that need to squeeze maximum performance and flexibility into as small a space as possible, so they provide superb solutions for server/data center/application consolidation efforts. The ability to swap out or install new blades on the fly makes them a good choice for companies that plan or expect to regularly grow their server environments. For many companies, particularly SMBs, work groups, and remote office environments, rack or tower servers often provide a great mix of price/performance. But the blade market is changing so swiftly that it's wise to keep an eye on new offerings, in case something comes along that can significantly improve business performance or support entirely new kinds of applications.
Question: Sun pulled out of the blade market last year because it didn't have confidence in its product. How do the company's new products stack up against HP's and IBM's lines?
King: Hard to say, since the details have mostly been sketchy with an emphasis on enhanced I/O performance. I expect Sun's new blades to leverage what Sun has learned (and profited from) in its Opteron-based servers, and to emphasize the company's reputation for engineering innovation. That should speak well to Sun's existing customers, but it's hard to say how others will respond. Historically, the company has had a hard time sustaining efforts beyond UltraSPARC/Solaris.
Question: Cooling and power consumption continue to see a lot of activity. Should IT executives invest in blades now, or wait to see if even greater gains can be had later?
King: That's an issue with a two-sided response: Over time, blades (and other server architectures) will almost certainly become more powerful and efficient, and power costs will almost certainly increase. However, timing IT purchases to obtain maximum value is difficult, at best. To be successful, IT purchases need to be the result of larger strategic efforts aimed at providing maximum support for critical processes or emerging opportunities. Cooling and power consumption issues are merely two elements to consider in the larger scheme of things.