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Servers come in a number of physical form factors or packaging, including:

  • Tower: The simplest servers, such as high-end PCs, are provided in tower cases and share similar restrictions in their extensibility.
  • Rack-mount: Larger servers often take rack-mount form. This is a standard, 19-inch wide enclosure that is some multiple of 1.75 inches tall and designed to be mounted into a larger enclosure termed a rack, which allows a site to create an appropriate mix of server configurations. A rack generally integrates some number of services such as power, storage and network connections.
  • Blade: As the technologies used to fabricate components in building server computers has evolved, those components have become more integrated and substantially smaller. This allowed a server to be built on a single board so a rack-mount-sized enclosure could hold many such boards, each with its own processing, memory, network and (minimal) storage. This led to a new form factor for servers: blades. The developing trend is that blades will encroach and take over rack-mount form factors.

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Here is a brief summary of these physical form factors and where to use them:

  • The tower form factor is used for low-capacity servers where scalability beyond two towers is not needed.
  • The rack-mount form factor is used to provide servers of substantial capability and multiple nodes, with each node itself being highly capable and configurable.
  • The blade form factor is best suited for servers containing large numbers of nodes of limited capability, each of which typically builds on PC technology with its low cost and small size.