Commentary: Considering rack, tower and blade servers for computers

September 28, 2011 

Like most things in life, servers for your business come in many shapes and sizes. Depending on the size of your business in three to five years and how the server will be used, the right type of server changes.

Tower servers look like your typical desktop computer, but have hardware and software designed for continual use and processing needs of most businesses. They are perfect for small businesses who have only one to four servers. They take up more space than most rack servers which plays a role in limiting the number you want in your business.

Depending on your level of technical knowledge, you could even virtualize your servers and decrease the number of physical machines down to one or two. Larger companies may use tower servers for specialized functions like data backups. With the larger space, you also may get more drives than an equivalent rack server. If you ever do want to switch to rack servers, there are conversion kits offered for most towers so they can be held in a rack. Because of the space taken up by the converted tower, you may want to sell the tower server and migrate the functionality to a rack server.

Rack servers are typically much shorter than tower servers, but wider. They mount inside a rack using specially designed rails that allow the server to slide in and out for easy maintenance. In the same space as 16 tower servers stacked together, you can fit up to 42 rack servers depending on their height. You can buy smaller racks if you need to conserve space and don’t need 42 servers. You should consider networking equipment, servers, storage, monitors, and any additional equipment when deciding on the size of the rack needed. To make it easier to manage all of the necessary cables and power supplies, racks have features built into them to help make that organization easier. Racks also can include locked doors, so you restrict access to some of your servers.

Rack servers vary in height and the quantity of parts that go in them. The larger rack servers can hold 1TB or more in memory and 24-plus drives. You will need special cooling for the room that contains your server rack because of the heat generated by that many machines. There is a greater investment in IT equipment and cooling when buying rack servers, but that is made up for in the saved space and easier management.

Blade servers are smaller versions of rack servers. They mount inside a blade chassis that mounts into a server rack. In the same space as 10 rack servers, you can fit 16 blade servers. If you do the math and compare against tower servers, you can fit 64 blade servers in the same space as 16 tower servers. With the smaller space, you will give up some expansion capabilities and hard drive space. If using blade servers, you should also use one or more storage devices to handle all of the data storage needs. Use a fiber connected storage device to improve performance of data transfers.

When making your next server purchase, think about your future business needs and talk to an experienced IT professional who can help you make the best decision.

Stephen Jaynes, vice president of sales at xByte Technologies, can be reached at or (941) 358-9770.

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