ITWorks: Building Its Own Blade Servers Becomes A New Business

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ITWorks' blade servers are essentially metal plates on which an industry-standard Mini-ITX or Thin Mini-ITX motherboard with the customer's choice of processors and hard drives are mounted. The blades slip into one of two chassis enclosures, including a 4U version with room for eight Thin Mini-ITX server blades and a 6U version with room for nine Mini-ITX blades.

Because each blade is based on an industry-standard motherboard, there is no single backplane. Instead, the connectors for each server are accessed individually from the back of the chassis.

"Over time, the backplanes eventually fail, and they don't allow the diversity of server blades we provide," Watts said. "So we left our system open. If we built a custom backplane, we'd kill the diversity of our system."

Instead of standard power supplies, power for the server blades is provided externally by commonly available AC-to-DC power supply "bricks" that are also used by mobile PCs, Watts said. As a result, the entire chassis runs on 12 VDC power.

"This allows us to remove the power supply from the chassis," he said. "Other vendors integrate the power supplies in the chassis, so they need to have a way to remove the heat. Also, if you need to replace a power supply in three years, where can you find one? So we took our cue from the laptop industry and went with power bricks."

By using mobile PC power bricks, the chassis is easy to cool and is more power-efficient than most servers, Watts said. The bricks also can be easily replaced and recycled if there is a problem.

"And the bricks are cheap, maybe $25 retail," he said.

The only proprietary component is the six fans inside the chassis for cooling the motherboards. They also run on an external power brick. If one fails, an alarm on the chassis sounds, Watts said.

Each blade inside the chasses can be configured differently, Watts said. "For example, in a small business, there may be a server for accounting, Web, the file server, backups, and point of sale," he said. "These can all be done with one blade chassis. And in the future, if one of the servers needs an upgrade, any user, any hobbyist, can pull out the blade and replace it."


This story was updated on July 9, 2012, at 3:36 p.m. PST, to accurately reflect location of company headquarters.

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