By Francis Chu  |  Posted 2004-09-27 Print this article Print

IBMs BladeCenter is a strong contender in the blade server arena, boasting high blade density, support for the latest Intel Corp. processors (including 64-bit), a modular and expandable chassis, and comprehensive management tools. The BladeCenter will be a good choice for large enterprise data centers or e-commerce sites.

The BladeCenter has 14 blade server bays that can support three types of blade servers: the two-way Intel Xeon-based HS20, the four-way Xeon HS40 and the two-way PowerPC JS20. (For this review, eWEEK Labs tested the HS20 and the HS40 systems.)

The BladeCenter HS20 supports the latest Xeon processors, including those with EM64T (Extended Memory 64 Technology). However, the HS20 has a relatively slow 500MHz FSB (front-side bus) and supports only PC2100 DDR (double-data-rate) memory. In comparison, the Hewlett-Packard Co. ProLiant BL20p G3 supports a chip set with an 800MHz FSB and PC3200 DDR-2 memory.

The memory and storage capacity of the HS20 blade is similar to that of the ProLiant BL20p G3: The HS20 supports up to 8GB of memory (four DIMM, or dual in-line memory module, slots with 2GB DIMMs), and dual on-board SCSI hard disks provide a storage capacity of as much as 300GB.

The BladeCenter has a larger chassis—7U (12.25 inches)—than the 6U (10.5-inch) ProLiant BL chassis. At first glance, the BladeCenter appears to have more blade density than the ProLiant because it can hold 14 HS20 blades without the SCSI drives. But once you outfit each HS20 blade with the SCSI storage expansion unit, you can use only half the number of blades (seven) per chassis. In contrast, eight ProLiant BL20p G3 blades with SCSI storage can fit into HPs 6U chassis.

Click here to read Labs review of the ProLiant BL p-Class Blade System. Relative density aside, the HS20 will still be a good choice for general-purpose server replacement, server consolidation projects, or any Web or front-end applications.

The HS40 four-way Xeon-based blade is IBMs most powerful blade server, supporting as many as four Xeon MP processors. It scales to 16GB of memory and can accommodate four SCSI drives with hardware RAID . The HS40s extra horsepower is well-suited for e-commerce or for use with database or middleware applications. The BladeCenter chassis can host as many as seven HS40 blades.

The JS20 blade features up to two IBM PowerPC processors and 16GB of memory. The BladeCenter chassis can support as many as 14 JS20 blades for 64-bit HPC (high-performance computing) environments.

The high-end, $51,387 BladeCenter chassis we tested comes with two Cisco Systems Inc. Gigabit Ethernet switches, two Brocade Communications Systems Inc. Enterprise Switch Modules, dual IBM SFP (Small Form-Factor Pluggable) modules and four redundant hot-plug power supplies. A bare-bones BladeCenter chassis costs $1,400.

The BladeCenter system we tested was populated with nine server blades: two HS40 blades, five HS20 blades and two HS20 blades with SCSI storage expansions. The standard HS20 blades, priced at $8,000 each, have dual 3.2GHz Xeon processors, 4GB of memory and a single 40GB IDE drive. The HS20 blade with the SCSI expansion unit costs $8,600 and comes with two extra 36GB SCSI drives that replace the IDE drive.

The HS40 blades we tested are priced at $13,500 each and come with two 2.7GHz Xeon MP processors, 2GB of memory and a 40GB IDE hard drive.

The BladeCenter comes with Version 4.2 of IBM Director software. Like HPs Systems Insight Manager, IBM Director provides a centralized system management platform for all IBM server hardware. The latest version provides enhanced Linux support, optional add-ons for server performance optimization and ease-of-use refinements.

During tests, we found that IBM Director provides a comprehensive set of management features, and we liked the layout of the GUI. However, we found the operation of the tool to be less intuitive than RLX Technologies Inc.s Control Tower 6G.

Click here to read a review of the Control Tower 6G. Also included in our test setup was BladeCenter Management Module, which provides comprehensive system status and monitoring capabilities.

Using the dedicated management port on the chassis, we accessed BladeCenter Management Module using a standard browser. The system status page gave us a birds-eye view of hardware component health, and an expandable menu provided quick links to management pages where we could perform tasks such as changing the boot sequence or network IP addresses of blades.

Technical Analyst Francis Chu can be reached at francis_chu@ziffdavis.com.

Check out eWEEK.coms Infrastructure Center at http://infrastructure.eweek.com for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.


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