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I'm researching the implementation of a new blade server setup at my company to run Windows servers (including virtualisation).

I've heard anecdotes of bad hardware and vendors but would like to know from a broader audience some facts. Once we go with a particular vendor we don't want to change unless there are really good reasons.

The most important factors for us are reliability and support.

Are there any first-hand experiences that you can share?


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12 Answers 12

up vote 3 down vote accepted

If you have had much dealing with non-blade hardware in the past then 2/3 of your decision should derive from that. Other people will be able to provide you weighted anecdotal opinion but it is no substitute for experience. If you have previous experience of a vendor, then providing they aren't new to the blade market, chances are it will be largely transferable to their other hardware within the same CPU architecture.

Deciding factors include:

  • Which vendors have specified you the right systems in the past.
  • What was the build quality of the hardware like.
  • Were there any HW/SW compatibility issues.
  • If you had to raise a replacement was it dealt with efficiently.
  • Was there any resale value after use, if that is something that appeals to you.
  • How did you like any software they provided you, such as remote management.

The remaining 1/3 of the decision will come from comparing specifications and pricing.

With all of that said, I would enter my €2 for IBM. We used xSeries equipment a long time before blades came along and it always proved to be reliable, well made and well serviced, which made our choice of blade vendor easy. The same has held true of their blade hardware and it just keeps improving. Plus the new management software is a nice touch :)

In our reasonable turnover of blades we have had to raise tickets on a couple of machines. One of which came to us as second hand stock. Both cases non-critical, but they had an engineer with replacement parts onsite the next day to resolve it.

I was surprised that there were so many positive stories about HP here as other people I've asked have had nightmares with them. In the past IBM has always been reliable for me so we'll go with that. –  Alex Angas Jun 2 '09 at 11:31
I've had two HP pClass chassis loaded to the brink, and five or six IBM chassis. I never liked the power distribution options with the IBM, though. The problem I have with blade vendors is their power management layout. HP wasn't so bad, but the power blocks as we had them installed actually blocked a bit of airflow, and the IBM setup required us to have power cables going to each side of the rack to ensure each side of the chassis had adequate power distribution. The industry really needs to standardize on a high amperage DC PDU solution. –  darthcoder Jul 14 '09 at 21:29

We chose to use HP where I work for Intel based systems, and IBM chassis for Unix. It is really all a matter of what you need, what your budget is, and how your relationship with various vendors is. Often times vendors you work with often can give you very aggresive pricing.

Support also plays a huge role, how good is it and how much does it cost?

For Windows, we did a very heavy analysis on the various blade offerings, and for VMWare specifically I would say HP is your best bet right now.


Dell/HP/IBM and you'll get good support as long as you pay for it.

People may(and probably will argue) that one of the vendors is better/worse than another.

Personally I like Dell/HP's remote access options.

Dell has lagged behind the competition in terms for features and management for years. HP always seems to be about 1-2 years ahead. –  aharden May 14 '09 at 15:12
Oh yes, in the configuration of IBM blades I ran, you couldn't share the remote management console. Either all users used the same server, or everyone but one person got screwed out of management. It made it a pain in the ass for us datacenter guys to cede some control to the software operations guys. –  darthcoder Jul 14 '09 at 21:32

As there's hardly many vendors to choose from (IBM, Dell and HP basically with good penetration and many options) I'd say pick whoever you feel more comfortable with today - your local partner is probably more important than which vendor it is.

I like IBM because their chassis are completely backwards-compatible with blades, while HP seems to have a plethora of different form factors and series. Also, IBM provides PowerPC blades (for VIOS and AIX) and I think possibly cell-processorbased blades as well? Could be fun, who knows...

...Dell I haven't tried but they seem to market their solutions on "less packaging, more hardware" which - if you don't have a good unboxing deal, is worth a lot ;) (I hate packaging, hardware I order should arrive on a cart, unpacked, charged and with all waste already removed ;)


The HP c3000/c7000 stuff had some issues early on but with the current firmwares and wide variety of available servers, interconnect modules, and compatibility is probably the best x86 blade solution on the market.


Our Windows and linux servers run pretty much exclusively on HP. We were badly burned by IBM a while back because we couldn't keep up with the flood of patches to their buggy firmware, and never went back. Also, working at $VERYLARGECORP means they bend over backwards with support.


I swear by HP C-Class blades for 98% of what I do, I'm sure the Dell are cheaper, the IBM as fast and reliable but the HP blades are fast, very reliable (and I find their service very good), HUGELY configuarable (as far as I know there are far more options available than even for the very configurable IBM blades) and the price is very good in the quantity we buy (2000-5000 per year).

In particular the combination of the BL460c/490c with Flex-10 Virtual Connect and VMWare 3.5U4 is very hard to beat - theoretically you could support 80 servers (with 640 cores, 11.5TB ram) in a single rack with six Cat5 cables and two 10GigE fibres!


I recently bought a used BladeCenter E chassis, and the seller UPS-shipped it to me with only one inch(!) of foam padding around it. Along the way, someone dropped the 130 pound package and bent part of the case, and one of the blade handles. Surprisingly, everything still works fine!

So, at least on the 'survives physical abuse' axis of reliability, I'm impressed with the IBM BladeCenter.

On the 'easy to find information' axis of support, I've been equally impressed with IBM's BladeCenter support resources. Since I got my chassis used, support involves me reading lots of documentation. Almost every question I've had has been easy to answer, and the questions I couldn't answer involved hardware that IBM hasn't sold in a few years (old QS20 blades).

I've had no problem finding and installing firmware updates, finding tutorials on configuring the networking module, and many other tasks a bladeserver newbie needs to accomplish.

I'm not sure if this helps you with for-pay bladeserver use, but if you go with an IBM BladeCenter, I'd be happy to answer any questions.

You can go too far the other way of course - the HP C7000 chassis come in a massive box that looks like the Ark of the Covenant from Raiders of the Lost Ark - Just the packaging weighs a ton! –  Chopper3 Jun 1 '09 at 18:51

I would go for IBM blade centers because they promised that they will use the same chassis for 5 years (until 2012 I think). So you wouldn't have to worry about replacing the chassis when you would like to replace the blades in the near future.

HP have the exact same promise (one matched the other, can't recall who committed first). –  Chopper3 Jun 1 '09 at 18:49

Seems a lot of our customers at my old datacenter swore by IBM for Blade servers. I haven't dug into them myself, so I can't give my own opinion on them.


I feel the need to add to this discussion.

I've got 20 Dell PowerEdge 1955 blades in 2 chassis. I love the hardware. There are some oddities (servers in the same chassis all have to have the same daughter card, or no daughter card. Servers won't turn on if one has a GbE DC and another has a FC), but by far the worst thing about these is the Dell DRAC.

I have never in my life seen a more miserable excuse for a management interface. It fully supports multiple simultaneous logins, but the thing is so slow that it can't do it. The processor on that card is so weak that sometimes the images on the webpage time out before it can all load. It's unusable 80% of the time.

We've called Dell about it, and all they can say is "Yes, DRAC is slow. We know.". I like the hardware otherwise, but damn the DRAC is miserable.

Good post. We're a HP house but periodically evaluate IBM/Dell/Sun blades when new models come out - the Dell ones are always the first ones to be reboxed and sent back. –  Chopper3 Jun 2 '09 at 12:53
I know this is old, but I have to comment. We retired our 1855s about 6 months ago (same chassis as the 1955s) and yes, the Drac was a hateful thing. But the new chassis with the new DRAC - a 100x improvement. –  Mark Henderson Nov 12 '11 at 3:15

Dell, in my experience, has had issues with their blade servers. Even the comments on their own website from users are overwhelmingly negative. HP or IBM are the way to go.


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