Second Life for Our Blade Servers

No, not the game Second Life, but trying to give a second lease of life to old abandoned hardware. Recently I noticed a big bunch of IBM blade servers lying round, dismantled, and stacked on the floor. I thought it would be good to take over them and use them for some student projects. So I went around to seek blessings to officially hijack the blades. I didn’t really know what was in the blade, or their hardware configuration, and I was told that they might not even be working.

Nevertheless, with fingers crossed, we proceeded to help ourselves to one chassis and 14 blades. It’s the H-series IBM Blade Center chassis, with HS20-series blade servers. Yeah, they sound old. But we’re not spending any money. If you don’t fork out money, you don’t get to choose.

The first thing we did when we laid hands on the blade servers was to open it up to inspect what was in it. Two CPU sockets, seen clearly in the foreground of the photo above. We can’t tell what CPUs they were, since they were covered by the heat sink. The RAM modules, 4 sticks of them, turned out to be a miserly 256MB per piece. So that’s just a total of 1GB. 1GB of RAM is like the amount we allocate to a virtual machine instance nowadays. Then the disk? 40GB. IDE. Really low-end old hardware.

After booting up the blade servers and putting Linux in it, we saw what the CPU was. Xeon. 32-bits. They had 2 processor cores per socket, and with hyperthreading, so there were effectively 8 processing cores in total. The CPU ran at 2.8GHz.

The hardware specifications weren’t all that great. Most people nowadays will have desktop computers that are more powerful than this. My desktop computer, which I upgraded recently, has a 64-bit 3.1GHz CPU with 4 cores and 16GB of RAM. You can’t tell much from GHz nowadays, but I think mine would spin circles around this IBM blade server.

But I imagine the whole experience of playing with the servers, setting them up, etc, would be fun for our students. How many people get the opportunity to work with blade servers? They aren’t cheap. They aren’t cheaper than the typical 1U rackmount servers, so for simple server requirements, SMEs are probably not going to be willing to fork out money for blade servers.

Most importantly, these blade servers are living a second life. They didn’t cost us money. (Okay, I know we did have to pay for them many years ago… but if you look at accounting principles, the assets have been fully depreciated by now, so it is “free”.)