Between the Tower and the Blade: An Overview of Popular Rack Server Lines

Despite the rapid development of cloud technologies, the work of modern companies (whether it is a small company or a large corporation) is practically impossible without its own servers. In this review we will tell you about rack servers, which are often used in the corporate segment. But first, a small educational program.

Today, there are three types of corporate servers: Tower, Blade and Rack. Tower servers are devices in separate enclosures that are very similar to familiar desktop PCs. All necessary filling to complete the work is inside their enclosure. Such servers are often very cumbersome, they are difficult to place with limited space in a server room. Blade servers are devices that have only the most necessary components, and additional systems are moved outside their enclosures. In a blade server, for example, there can only be a motherboard with a processor, memory, and a network controller. The rest of the components (hard drives, power supplies, etc.) are used externally. This allows you to make them very thin and place multiple servers on one rack. Rack server, which will be discussed further, is a kind of compromise between these models. On the one hand, they are thin and placed in racks, and on the other hand, they have a full-fledged filling that allows using each device without being tied to external modules.

What are the features, advantages and disadvantages of rack servers? You can learn from our table their main characteristics

And we will tell you about the main points further. As in the case of blade servers, they take up little space. They are easier to install, easier to connect, cool and carry out maintenance. Since server racks are standardized (usually their bays are 19 inches wide and 1.5 - 1.75 inches high), other corporate equipment (switches, disk arrays, etc.) can be placed along with the servers. 

Considering that these are autonomous systems, no external modules are needed for them. But at the same time they can be upgraded without any problems - to change processors, add memory, expand disk space. If the server fails, it is very easy to find the breakdown with the help of visual inspection or by the sound signal of the breakdown. Also, these servers can be very powerful, which allows you to run resource-intensive applications on them and perform tasks that require complex calculations. 

Of the shortcomings - you need to seriously approach the cooling. They have small cases, everything is tight inside, so the ambient temperature should be low enough for the equipment to feel good. And if you use powerful rack servers to the full, then the energy consumption will increase significantly (add the energy spent on cooling to the same place). This is another disadvantage of this kind of devices. But, by large, these shortcomings are still more than overlapping with pluses.

How to choose a rack server? 

First you have to decide whether they are needed at all. If the company requires up to 10 servers, it is better to choose the tower servers. They are less fancy about ambient temperature and a bit easier to maintain. If you need a large number of servers - from 25-30 and above - it is most advantageous to immediately install the blade server. Their maintenance will be significantly more economical. Well, all that is between - is given to rack servers. Although the use of hybrid models, too, has not been canceled. For example, you can purchase most of the blade servers for common tasks and a few rack ones for resource-intensive computing. Moreover, they fit perfectly in the same rack.

As for the technical characteristics and additional features, then everything depends on the needs of the company. These are purely individual issues that the IT department should decide based on the specific needs of the organization. In our review, we will describe the main features in the line of well-known manufacturers of servers and provide you with a convenient tool for comparison and selection.

Dell EMC PowerEdge Rack Servers

In the line of rack servers from Dell, you can find devices for every taste and need. There are 20 models of form-factor 1U, 2U and 4U (where 1U is the standard size and 4U is four times the standard). They solve tasks of any type and are suitable for both large companies and SMB. At Dell, EMC server 1U belong to the initial level - the simplest solutions suitable for small companies that are just moving to this type of server. There are four such models in the whole line. 2U servers are more productive: they have more memory, cache, and higher data processing speed. This is the most common form-factor in the line: there are 11 models available. 4U is the most advanced solutions used for virtualization, multimedia processing and the most resource demanding computing. Five models of such servers are available for purchase.

The EMC PowerEdge Rack Servers architecture makes it easy to scale based on your organization’s needs. This is facilitated by Intel Xeon Scalable processors installed in the servers of this line. Depending on the model, they can have up to 28 computing cores. This allows you to qualitatively allocate computing resources to solve various tasks. High server performance is confirmed by tests. For example, the Dell EMC PowerEdge R940 model set a world speed record when working with SAP. Up to 6 TB of RAM is available in this model (there are 48 slots with support for DDR4 DIMM RAM bars), up to 24 drives with a total capacity of 122 TB and power supplies of up to 2400 W are available.

HPE ProLiant DL Servers

In the arsenal of Hewlett Packard Enterprise there are several lines of rack servers. Let's pay attention to the ProLiant DL Servers series, which is considered the most universal of them. It includes seven models of form-factor from 1U to 4U. The processors on which the devices operate are also varied. AMD EPYC is installed in two models, Intel Xeon E3 in one, the others have Intel Xeon Scalable crystals. In the most powerful model of the line - ProLiant DL580 - up to 6 TB of RAM and installation of up to 48 drives are available, and the server is powered by four power supplies.

This line allows you to perform a wide variety of business tasks, ranging from virtualization to launching resource-intensive applications and multi-tasking computing. Its devices are equipped with proprietary HPE Persistent Memory non-volatile memory modules, which provide high performance and efficient use of resources by optimizing energy costs. Also in ProLiant DL Servers much attention is paid to security. The means of protecting servers against various types of cyberattacks (including ransomware programs, one of the most pressing problems today) are built directly into the microchips. This provides additional protection against the penetration of malicious code into the server’s firmware. And if this still happened, the system of verification of digital fingerprints will not allow the server to start, and the automatic recovery function will be able to quickly return the server to a working state, rolling back to the latest unaffected firmware version.

Cisco UCS C-Series Rack Servers

In this model line of the Cisco company there are seven names of rack servers. Three of them are made in the 4U form-factor, two inthe 2U form-factor and two more are 1U models. The servers run on Intel Xeon Scalable and Intel Xeon E-series processors , and also support up to 6 TB of RAM, depending on the device setup, and up to four power supplies with a capacity of up to 1600 W. Such a small number of server models can be a little confusing, because Cisco is a large and a well-known manufacturer. But, on the other hand, it facilitates the selection of suitable servers for the needs of the company. Moreover, all of them provide the necessary level of scalability and performance. Cisco servers use proprietary Virtual Machine Fabric Extender (VM-FEX) technology. It integrates virtual and physical environments into a single infrastructure, so administrators can configure, monitor, and diagnose network traffic of virtual machines and regular servers within a single system.

One of the most productive servers in the line is the UCS C460 M4 model. It is well-suited for the most demanding corporate and mission-critical tasks, large-scale virtualization, and database applications. On board, there can be up to two Intel Xeon E7-4800/8800 processors and up to 6 TB of RAM.

Also in the line there is a multi-server Cisco UCS C4200 that runs on an AMD EPYC processor. Multi-Node servers are devices that, in the same enclosure (in this case, 2U), have several independent nodes that can be installed and removed when the server is turned off, thus changing its configuration. This is not a very common type of server, but as you can see, some manufacturers have such devices.

Lenovo Rack Servers

The Chinese company Lenovo offers its customers 15 models of rack servers 1U, 2U and 4U form-factor, which are positioned as devices for small and medium-sized businesses, as well as developing companies. They belong to three different series, which differ, first of all, in performance. The only model of the Lenovo ThinkServer line, the RS160, is an entry-level server with an Intel Xeon E3, Core i3, Pentium or Celeron processor. This server is suitable for small companies that do not have the need for resource-intensive computing and who do not plan in the near future a significant expansion of the IT infrastructure.

Three models are available in the Lenovo System series. They are suitable for many corporate functions: data storage and processing, organization of print servers, work with cloud services, analytics, etc. They are equipped with Intel Xeon E3 processors, various configurations of RAM and drives are also available.

The Lenovo ThinkSystem line has five high-performance models that use Intel Xeon Scalable processors. These servers are suitable for almost all types of corporate tasks, including those that require serious computing power. The most productive of them - Lenovo ThinkSystem SR670 - can be used in a cluster environment and provide reliable scaling with increasing computing loads. In addition, it provides optimal performance when working with artificial intelligence systems and is suitable for the operation of resource-intensive machine learning systems.

Lenovo also has several server models that the company itself (regardless of their belonging to the above lines) brings to a separate section - mission critical devices. These are the System x3850-3950 X6, ThinkSystem SR850 and ThinkSystem SR950 models. They are needed for the most demanding computing (including cloud computing) and the work of the most important applications. For example, the onboard ThinkSystem SR950 model can be up to eight Intel Xeon Platinum processors, up to 12 TB of RAM, and the total volume of the drives can reach 184 TB. Really impressive.

Intel Server System

Intel Corporation supplies are not only well-known server processors, but also ready-to-use rack server systems on proprietary boards. In total, they have 24 models, which are divided into three lines.

Systems based on the Intel S1200SP server board are entry-level solutions for small businesses that don’t need to invest in large IT infrastructure. All three models of this line have a form-factor of 1U, they have Intel Xeon E3 processors installed, up to four DDR4 memory modules are also supported.

Servers based on the Intel S2600WT board are ten 1U and 2U form-factor devices. They are well-scalable mid-level systems with decent computing power and are intended for use, including in the cloud infrastructure. These devices have a flexible I / O subsystem and a capacious storage system, and they also provide high network bandwidth. These servers are based on Intel Xeon E5 processors and support up to 24 DDR4 memory modules.

Devices with a form-factor of 1U and 2U based on the Intel S2600WF server board are the most efficient Intel rack servers. They run on Intel Xeon Scalable processors and support up to 24 DDR4 RAM modules (total maximum capacity is 1.5 TB). They support the installation of up to 28 drives, and the power of the power supply reaches 1300 watts. These solutions are used where serious computing power and large bandwidth are required: in high-performance systems (HPC), data systems with high density and “hot” access, as well as in a scalable cloud infrastructure.

Huawei FusionServer

Company Huawei, which is known in the consumer segment for its smartphones, offers a line of FusionServer servers for the corporate market. It includes not only rack devices, but also blade servers, as well as other equipment. But if we talk specifically about the rack servers, there are 11 models in the Huawei portfolio, which are available in 1U, 2U and 4U formats. All of them are running the Intel Xeon processor family: four models on the Xeon E5, three models on the Xeon E7 and another four on the Xeon Scalable.

FusionServer servers use a range of proprietary technologies. For example, more than half of the devices support intelligent power management and dynamic power management (DEMT). It allows you to automatically turn on and off the power for multi-phase sources, has a switching mechanism from the active to the backup power source and apply policies to control the speed of rotation of the fans. Also present in them is a control system based on the Huawei iBCM chip. It gives you the opportunity to diagnose problems and conduct automatic technical support.

All models support configurations with multiple hard drives. The most capacious of them - FusionServer 5288 V3 - can simultaneously have up to 40 installed drives. All devices have two or four power supplies, which are hot-swappable in redundant mode.


The Japanese company Fujitsu produces different types of servers called PRIMERGY. Among them, and seven models of rack devices PRIMERGY RX. Of these, three models have a form-factor of 1U and 2U, another 4U. These devices are positioned by the manufacturer as universal servers with high levels of performance, low power consumption and high reliability. Servers run on Intel Xeon processors. Four devices have Xeon Scalable crystals, and another server has Xeon E3, Xeon E5 and Xeon E7.

Although the line of these devices is not very large, it contains solutions that will satisfy the needs of companies of different sizes. There is an inexpensive single-processor model RX1330 M3, which is suitable for small business. This server is optimized for work with infrastructure and communication applications, administration and work with files. PRIMERGY RX2530 M4 provides opportunities for large-scale virtualization and horizontal scaling, work with databases and resource-intensive calculations. It will be useful for medium and large companies. A four-rack PRIMERGY RX4770 M3 is perfect for large enterprises that are faced with the tasks of virtualization, server consolidation, database management, business intelligence and processing large volumes of information.

Short summary

The number and variety of rack server models is impressive. They are sharpened by the implementation of a variety of tasks, differ in dozens of parameters, and also radically differ in cost. In our review, we outlined the existing offers on the market. The choice of specific models depends entirely on the specific needs of the enterprise. But, hopefully, this review and a comparative table of rack servers will help you navigate them.

Author: Vladyslav Myronovych, for ROI4CIO

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