Blades severs are basically servers stripped down to the power essentials. Their modular design minimizes physical space and energy requirements. A great many blades can be housed inside a blade enclosure. While a typical rack can house up to 42 units (42U), you can pack many hundreds of blades into a similar space.
Little more than thin circuit boards, each blade server can be dedicated to one application or many. They focus on an element such as compute power at the expense over other elements. A common blade architecture is to group as many CPUs as possible into the available space and either have very little storage, or skip having any storage at all – storage, after all, tends to be bulky.
Another benefit of the blade architecture is that it reduces maintenance time. As they can be rapidly slid in and out, large data centers such as those used by Amazon and Google operate with huge numbers of blades. Redundancy ensures that the failure of one or more blades has no impact on service. Administrators can go around during a set schedule to replace those that failed.
In some ways, blades are something of a commodity item: A whole lot of CPUs, some interconnects and memory, perhaps some SSD or HDDs. The general guts of one blade may be similar to those from other vendors. OEMs attend to differentiate their offerings with management software and enclosure designs.
These days, vendor consolidation has reduced the options out there. IBM sold off its blade server business to Lenovo. Other vendors have dropped out of the market, and HPE and Dell dominate. However, for the purpose of this guide, we have only included two blades each from those vendors. Another six options are covered in the guide.
- Dell PowerEdge FX2
- HPE ProLiant BL460c
- Lenovo ThinkSystem SN550
- Cisco UCS B200 M5
- Huawei FusionServer E9000
- Fujitsu Primergy BX400 S1 Cloud
- NEC SigmaBlade M
- Dell PowerEdge MX840C
- HPE Synergy 660
- SuperMicro SuperBlade
This Dell FX2 blade is a lower-end, workhorse model. But it still packs plenty of punch into its quarter-width form factor. Its compact size means it will see a lot of action in big server farms that want stripped down compute blades.
When one fails, they can failover to another without impact. It is a good candidate for anyone wanting an entry level blade infrastructure. But it lacks the storage and compute power of many of the other products in this guide.
Read our in-depth coverage of the Dell PowerEdge FX2
The BL460c is not expensive as blades go. However, the price tag quickly rises due to the price of its c7000 enclosure. HPE offers the c3000 enclosure as an entry level alternative. Its blade came out just behind Cisco in user review ratings, but beats Cisco in terms of the storage options that exist within HPE as a whole.
This ProLiant is not as compact as the Dell PowerEdge FX2, but pricing is similar and you get more memory and cores in the HPE blade. It’s a good choice for SMBs, and as a general, entry-level business server.
Lenovo acquired the ThinkSystem line from IBM a few years ago. As such, the underlying guts of the system are sound. However, the SN550 may lose out due to a lack of density, and some user concerns about rising costs as the system is scaled up.
But for those businesses with an IBM/Lenovo infrastructure already in place, the SN550 is likely to be a good choice.
Read our in-depth coverage of the Lenovo ThinkSystem SN550
Cisco UCS blades are rated ahead of HPE BladeSystem and Dell PowerEdge blades by users, and only slightly behind the higher-end HPE Synergy. UCS blades are a smart choice for those already operating on Cisco. They are also a good option for those focused on networking and compute rather than storage.
But for those heavily invested in HPE or Dell systems, the storage options offered by of Cisco may not be as comprehensive. If you are going to go with Cisco UCS blades, then go all in on the Unified Computing System vision, as it ties together all aspects of compute, networking and storage throughout the enterprise.
Huawei may not be the first name people think of when they look for enterprise computing platforms. But the Chinese giant has established a formidable portfolio.
Its FusionServer E9000 converged-architecture blade server is a four-socket blade that goes up against the Dell PowerEdge MX480C and HPE Synergy 660 in that upper end category. It beats them easily on price, but is far behind on the number of memory and processor cores. Yet for those not already heavily invested in Dell or HPE, this may be one to try.
Read our in-depth coverage of the Huawei FusionServer E9000
The Primergy BX400 S1 blade could considered a data center on wheels. It goes up against the HPE Proliant BL460c with the c3000 enclosure. Pricing is similar but HPE comes out ahead on user ratings, but the Primergy blade wins on number of cores.
This dual-socket server blade is probably best for SMBs and smaller projects in mid-sized organizations addressing web infrastructure workloads, and HPC. However users may not see the same level of high support as offered by U.S. based companies.
The SigmaBlade M is the cheapest blade on the list – eight two-socket Xeons in an enclosure can be acquired for less than $10,000. It may be good enough for SMBs looking to reduce their computing footprint or upgrade an aging server infrastructure.
But its management, networking, and storage options may not be enough for large enterprises. For those already invested in IBM/Lenovo, HPE, Dell, or Cisco architectures, adding another vendor may be unwanted risk.
User reviews place the PowerEdge M series a little behind blades from HPE and Cisco. However, this blade sits at the higher end of the Dell blade portfolio, and it its only real rival in this guide is the HPE Synergy blade.
The MX840C is tops on memory, compute, and storage courtesy of its double-width form factor. It may be pricier than most of the other blades, but it is a lot cheaper than the Synergy model. Ideal for high performance applications where high density is not a major requirement.
Read our in-depth coverage of the Dell PowerEdge MX840C
The HPE Synergy 660 is one of three blades in the guide that can host four Xeon Scalable processors. It’s the king in terms of enterprise features and price. No other blade in this guide comes even close to the price tag of this high performance model.
However, at the same time, if you need high-end juice and are willing to pay, the others will struggle to keep up. Top pick for demanding workloads.
If you are looking for an inexpensive way to adopt four-socket Xeon blades, the SuperBlade from SuperMicro fits the bill. It offers them in a much smaller form factor than its Dell and HPE competitors.
However, the SuperBlade lacks the management and enterprise-class smarts offered by those giants. Budget-constrained organizations and SMBs should put this on their shortlist for compute intensive blades at a reasonable cost.
Read our in-depth coverage of the SuperMicro SuperBlade
Dell PowerEdge FX2
2 Xeon E5-2600
|Good entry-level blade|
Dell PowerEdge MX840C
4 Intel Xeon Scalable CPUs
|High end, high performance|
HPE ProLiant BL460c
2 Xeon Scalable
|Good for SMBs|
HPE Synergy 660
4 Xeon Platinum 8160
|Top of the line performance|
Lenovo ThinkSystem SN550
Two Xeon Scalable
|Natural fit for IBM environments|
Cisco UCS B200 M5
2 Xeon Scalable
|Excellent for Cisco networks|
Huawei FusionServer E9000
Two Xeon Scalable
|Good performance at a reasonable price|
Four Xeon Scalable
|Budget price, 4-socket Xeon|
Fujitsu Primergy BX2560
2 Xeon E5-2600
|Good for Web infrastructure workloads|
NEC SigmaBlade M
2 Xeon 5500 series
|Low cost, scalable|