Rackmount vs. blade servers considering maintenance challenges

Data Center Maintenance


Parker July 01, 2013

Rackmount servers have long held a dominant place in the data center, but the relatively recent rise of blade servers has given IT managers more options as to how they configure their server environment. Both rack-mount and blade systems offer strategic advantages and limitations that can be exposed over time as maintenance needs change and OEM support warranties expire. Dealing with the challenges that arise in such situations is vital to maximizing the value of both blade and rack-mount systems. Working with a third-party hardware maintenance and operating system support provider that understands these challenges and can support both types of systems effectively is vital to extending the life of hardware and creating a return on investment from the initial purchase.

Considering maintenance challenges of rack-mount servers

Generally speaking, IT managers who purchase a rack-mount server expect that system to remain intact, in its current form, for an extended period of time. Such devices are designed for engineering excellence and often contain components that will last a decade before failing. While any individual hardware item, such as the power supply, hard disk or CPU could fail at any moment because of electrical problems, most of these systems will function without problems for an extended period. As a result, rack-mount servers are often designed to last much longer than the initial OEM warranty. At the same time, they also have the potential to survive beyond the end-of-service life date, even if one or two components must be replaced in the process.

Generally speaking, rack-mount systems are fairly large, complex to install and take up plenty of floor space. However, IT managers can also use different systems within a rack, giving them operational freedom. As a result, many rack-mount servers play a vital strategic role in supporting IT functions, but are also incredibly disruptive to replace. This creates an environment in which third-party maintenance plans are particularly valuable because they extend the life of the hardware.

Looking at blade servers from an extended maintenance perspective

Blade servers, on the other hand, are installed in rack configurations that include shared power supplies and cooling systems. This completely changes the operational balance from rack-mounted servers, which each include their own components. While this can limit a company’s ability to mix and match components to extend the life of hardware and maximize its performance, it also gives them access to a relatively inexpensive, flexible, small and easy-to-install server option.

The challenge with blade servers is that they are also designed to be relatively inexpensive and easy to replace if something fails. They are not necessarily so inexpensive that they can be replaced casually without strategic overthought, but IT managers also probably do not want to spend heavily on maintenance and support plans to keep blade servers running when they are so easy to replace. This creates a situation where third-party support is particularly beneficial. Many OEM support plans, though effective, are also expensive. This can be a detriment to the value of blade servers as such systems create a considerable return on investment when their lifecycle is extended beyond the initial warranty period.

Third-party maintenance plans offer the cost-efficiency needed to maximize the value of blade servers by giving IT managers the support they need to keep such systems viable without forcing them to take on the costs of an extended warranty with the OEM.

Whether IT leaders are using rack-mount or blade servers, they have to carefully assess the maintenance implications of such solutions. Third-party support plans can pay dividends in both situations, positioning organizations to create value from legacy hardware systems.

About the Author

Parker, Park Place Assistant