One of the goals I have for this blog is to keep it current with news and updates from blade top tier server vendors. However, over the past year, I have found it harder and harder to find relevant information. Why is this? Is it just because we in a lull between new blade server models or is the blade server dying? I decided to dig a little deeper into this question.
My search for “blade server market share” turns up websites offering to sell you a report detailing how the blade server market is growing. These website ask for large amounts of dollars to download, which I can’t afford (maybe someone will set up a fund raiser for me.) Additionally, these sites are ones I’ve never heard of so I am not sure I would trust them even if I had the money. Since my web search turned up with no good information, I turned to research. I took a look back at IDC data for servers and it paints a better picture as to what’s happening with blade servers.
Historical IDC Research
As I examined the past several quarters of IDC server unit data, a trend became clear. The blade server market is in a decline. Looking at data since 2018, blade server year-over-year (YoY) market share of units sold has declined each quarter. However the latest IDC Worldwide Server tracker (Q2 2020) shows a YoY positive gain at -12.49% vs. previous quarters.
In comparison, rack server units YoY growth last quarter is positive at 5.10% and have showed near positive YoY growth every quarter.
Reasons for Decline of Blade Server Market Share
I’m not an analyst so I can only speculate, but I think there are a few reasons why we’re seeing the blade server market decline:
- Growth of other, denser, solutions. The “density” market, defined as standard multi node, custom multi node or custom racks, showed a 48.5% YoY market share growth in units shipped in Q2 2020 according to IDC. When you reflect on what these dense systems offer, they have shared cooling and shared power but network and management are different. Organizations looking to get a dense solution without needing to have a streamlined management interface or reduced cabling may find more value in these dense server platforms.
- Lack of I/O Flexibility. I’ve written several blog posts on how GPUs can be incorporated into a blade server ecosystem, but when you compare the flexibility you have in rack servers (more PCIe slots, more vendors, more GPU options) having a non blade server environment may be appealing.
- Power. Back in the origins of blade servers, we used to speak about how blade servers can save you on power. Now that’s not a reality. CPU vendors are coming out with CPUs that require a lot of power. When you compare blade servers to rack servers there are chances that you may save on a density or rack server design. This isn’t always the case, but it may be another reason for server sales to shift away from blade servers.
I don’t think we’ll ever see the end of blade servers. Yes, they are in a decline right now, but I feel like we’ll see a growth in the blade server market in the future. I expect to see a new platform from Cisco soon. That’ll drive more interest in blade servers. In addition, there are new technologies on the horizon which could drive the necessity for a modular platform, so don’t give up on blade servers just yet.
Kevin Houston is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of BladesMadeSimple.com. He has over 23 years of experience in the x86 server marketplace. Since 1997 Kevin has worked at several resellers in the Atlanta area, and has a vast array of competitive x86 server knowledge and certifications as well as an in-depth understanding of VMware virtualization. Kevin has worked at Dell since August 2011 supporting enterprise server sales as a Principal Technologist. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Houston
Disclaimer: The views presented in this blog are personal views and may or may not reflect any of the contributors’ employer’s positions. Furthermore, the content is not reviewed, approved or published by any employer.