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A sharper approach to blades

It's blades all the way for HP. Just make sure the promises pan out

There should be nothing magic about blades. They don't do anything computational that ordinary servers don't do: you can't tell from the other end of the network what your task is running on, nor should you care. Just a repackaging of ordinary components, right?

Yet by bringing usability to servers, the blade format has changed the whole market. HP is justifiably proud of its latest products, which promise another step forward to the ideal of high performance, interchangeable components that just plug in and start working. In fact, some of that pride leaked out at the launch in boasting that, for this buttoned-down industry, is the equivalent of 2Pac calling out The Notorious B.I.G in an East Coast/West Coast grudgefest. "We've leapfrogged IBM", chanted HPac from the stage, to an industrial clamour of grinding disks, blingin' status displays and screeching cooling systems.

Well, perhaps not. But the competition is fierce, the rate of innovation high and the pressure intense to deliver more than the other guy. This is all to the good: more virtualisation, better management and superior power reduction are all welcome, and what HP delivers today you can be sure IBM will be beating tomorrow and Dell duplicating down the line.

In the excitement, though, it's worth remembering that just because you can pack sixteen blades in a box and not see it melt down through the server room floor, you don't have to. Doing what you did yesterday but with less is every bit as valid as keeping things pushed to the limit. There's a subtle bait and switch at work: buy our blades, say the manufacturers, and you'll be more efficient — so why not buy lots more?

There's an easy way to avoid the temptation. Run the figures. If HP promises fifty percent power reduction, get them to write it down, and measure what actually happens. If IBM says that their virtualisation means you can do the same job on four blades as on your eight previous servers, take a note at the time and keep the throughput logs.

Then, next time the Bladerunner Krew come calling, you can roll out your own figures – and, if these promises don't quite match reality, demand some solid respect of your own.