If you search for rack servers, there are millions of them available with unlimited varieties, many of them residing in data centres and server farms. As the data centres grew to address more diverse needs, rack servers also evolved at the same pace to meet those increased demands while handling the volume, performance, and efficiency needs. This rise in demand led to growth in the server market, and as a result, the reported revenue of the UK stands at $3.83 billion in 2023, according to a global report.
But how have rack servers evolved into a massive entity? The history of rack servers is quite interesting as it reveals how technology evolves and contributes to data centre development.
But we dive into the journey of these servers. Let’s understand what rack servers are and what they do.
What are Rack Servers?
Rack servers are essentially like other servers, which are computing devices that provide data and services to clients or other computer programs. These servers are mounted within a rack and hence the name. They are made of powerful hardware, memory and storage components. They are ideal for harsh environments that focus on scalability, upgradability and expandability. Rack servers are hot-swappable, meaning you can add additional rack or repair servers while it’s plugged in, helping reduce downtime and ensure business continuity. Some other benefits of these servers are easy maintenance, better cooling, increased scalability and better space utilization.
Today, there are many types of server rack available in the market. But the notable moment which sparked the history of these servers is the requirement related to power and efficiency in smaller data centre space. From there, the evolution of rack servers continued to set milestones with the passing years.
Origin of Rack Mount Servers: The concept of rack mount server dates to the 1940s. Back then, rack servers were called rack-mounting electronic equipment. Earlier versions of these servers were housed in large cabinets and wired manually. However, lack of standardization made their use, management and upgradation difficult.
Introduction to Standardization and Form Factors: In the 1980s, organizations named the Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA) started implementing standard form factors for rack-mountable equipment to remove earlier limitations. The standardization enabled interoperability and led to the development of 19-inch rack cabinets, which have become a standard in the industry.
Rise of 1U Form Factor of Rack Servers: During the 90s, the 1U (1.75 inches) rack servers, their smallest form factor, gained popularity. This company size enabled users to have multiple servers stacked in a single rack unit, helping them with increased computing density in a limited space.
Contributions to Cooling and Power Efficiency: Although the rack servers’ density increased, it caused heat dissipation and power consumption concerns. To remove these issues, manufacturers started developing more efficient cooling systems and low-power components while enhancing the energy efficiency of rack servers.
The Arrival of Blade Servers: In the early 2000s, blade servers came as a breakthrough in computing density. These servers are compact, standardized modules that share a single chassis with power supplies, cooling, and network connections. When the blade servers arrived, they allowed more computing power per rack unit.
The Arrival of Virtualization and Cloud Computing Technology: During the mid-2000s, virtualization technology got introduced, one of the preferred methods to date. Using virtualization techniques, users could run multiple virtual machines on a single physical server, which helped them reduce the number of physical servers required, thus reducing additional costs.
A Move to Converged and Hyperconverged Infrastructure: In the last few years, converged and hyper-converged infrastructure solutions were employed to further dense the computing power in data centres. What these systems do is that they integrate computing, storage, and networking components into a single appliance, thus offering simplified management and increased efficiency.
The Chase for Efficiency: Even after years of innovation, manufacturers today work on improving power efficiency, cooling techniques and competent integration to maximize computing power in small spaces. These efforts led to many innovations, such as liquid cooling solutions and densely packed server designs.
The development of rack servers was a pursuit of more computing power in small footprints, and it’s still the same in the current times. While virtualization and integrated infrastructures are here to transform rack server utilization, there is still more scope to offer efficient solutions to data centres worldwide.