Two New Systems
Most IT managers today are still in wait-and-see mode when it comes to implementing server blade systems. However, eWeek Labs tests show that two of the newest blade server systems on the marketthe ProLiant BL10e from Hewlett-Packard Co. (formerly from Compaq Computer Corp.) and the ServerBlade 800i, from RLX Technologies Inc.might coax more companies to take the server blade plunge. These new systems havent completely rewritten blades technology or capabilities: Like other systems on the market, both of the servers we tested target the front-end Web space. These server blades are a good fit at Internet-centric companies running front-end applications, such as Web services, because they allow IT staffs to quickly deploy and take down server systems.In the coming year, HP and RLX will be joined by even more advanced systems from vendors including Dell Computer Corp., Fujitsu Siemens Computers, IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. These blades will not simply be space- and utility-saving servers used to run Tier One applications; they will also feature the latest multiprocessor chip sets and will support high-bandwidth standards, enabling them to run more demanding applications such as databases. Another factor to consider is the HP-Compaq merger. HP has not yet announced plans to discontinue either its product line or Compaqs ProLiant series or to roll one lines attributes into the other. Prospective buyers may want to wait to see how this all shakes out. Sites that do not have the IT budget to justify the rollout of a new technology, yet have idle hardware in-house, might also want to consider server virtualization as an alternative to blades (see Tech Analysis). As better blade systems with improved hardware come to the server market, the key differentiator will be the management framework. It will be increasingly important for vendors to establish management standards because most customers wont want to get locked into proprietary technology. The rise of the blade market will also bring about the development of new blade management software technologies by third-party companies (see story). HP ProLiant BL10e The $1,800 ProLiant BL10e server blade, Compaqs first entry into the blade server space, shipped in March. (After the merger, the HP moniker was added.) It has an Intel Corp. Ultra Low Voltage 700MHz Pentium III processor with 512KB of Level 2 cache and a 100MHz FSB (front-side bus). It also comes with 512MB of ECC SDRAM (error-correcting code synchronous dynamic RAM), a 2.5-inch 30GB Ultra ATA hard drive and dual embedded 10/100M-bps Ethernet. The BL10e can scale up to 1GB of memory. The system we tested is priced at $12,090 and included three blades (at $1,800 each), the ProLiant BL e-Class enclosure (at $5,500) and the ProLiant Rapid Deployment Pack with 10 licenses ($1,190). The e-Class enclosure stands at a compact 3U (5.25 inches) and can hold 20 ProLiant BL10e server blades. We liked the enclosures modular design, which allowed us to access hardware components without using tools. An easily accessible fan cage houses four hot-plug redundant fans and forms the main cooling component. Dual hot-plug redundant power supplies can be easily replaced at the rear of the enclosure. The enclosure also provides three removable interconnect trays for accessing the server blades network connections. Our test system (the standard configuration) included a 40-port RJ-45 patch panel (two RJ-45 ports per blade). A four-port RJ-21 patch panel is also available for cable aggregation behind the enclosure. For sites that want to patch the enclosure to a Gigabit network, a four-port copper Gigabit interconnect switch is available. We used the ProLiant BL10es Integrated Administrator Web browser interface to manage the ProLiant BL10e enclosure and the blades. We logged in to the enclosure via Secure HTTP connections and were able to see system status at a glance, configure network settings and quickly reboot individual blades. The ProLiant Essentials Rapid Deployment Pack integrates Altiris Inc.s Express with Compaqs SmartStart scripting tools to provide a comprehensive management suite that facilitates the deployment and provisioning of server blades using scripting and imaging techniques. The Rapid Deployment Pack installs the Altiris Express Deployment Server on a Windows 2000 server, where all software provisioning tasks are performed. We ran the deployment server on a Compaq DL320 and could quickly deploy and provision several blade systems. We recommend installing the deployment software on a faster server than the DL320, using SCSI disk drives instead of IDE drives for better performance at larger sites. The Altiris deployment server is optional, and since its the only provisioning software available to the ProLiant blades, we recommend that IT managers purchase the Rapid Deployment Pack with the ProLiant blades. Rlx ServerBlade 800i The ServerBlade 800i is rlxs first Intel-based server blade offering. RLXs ServerBlade 663 and 667 systems pioneered blade server systems using the Transmeta Corp. Crusoe processor to minimize heat and power consumption. The $1,450 ServerBlade 800i features many hardware components that are similar to HPs ProLiant BL10e, although the ServerBlade 800i has the newer processor and chip setIntels Low Voltage 800MHz Pentium III processor with 512KB of L2 cache and a 133MHz FSB, 512MB of ECC double-data-rate SDRAM, a 20GB 2.5-inch hard drive, and dual 10/100M-bps Ethernet controllers. We tested a $9,550 RLX ServerBlade system with three blades (at $1,450 each), plus RLXs Control Tower Blade 2 ($1,900) and the System 300ex enclosure ($3,300). The 800i can support up to 1GB of memory in one dual in-line memory module slot and offers a maximum storage capacity of 80GB with two hard drives. The RLX System 300ex enclosure can hold up to 24 RLX 800i ServerBlades within a 3U form factor, meaning that 336 ServerBlades fit in an industry-standard 42U rack, providing the best server density in its class. The System 300ex enclosure has dual redundant power supplies, an integrated management switch and four RJ-21 connectors for accessing the server blade network. The RLX enclosure uses RJ-21 connectors and cables to provide network connectivity to the server blades without messing up the cabling. However, we were disappointed that the RLX enclosure doesnt offer removable fans. The Control Tower Blade 2 is a ServerBlade 800i running RLXs custom management software on Linux. The Control Tower provides system monitoring, alerting and software provisioning capabilities to server blades on multiple chassis. The RLX Control Tower Blade costs $1,900, and there is a licensing cost of $100 per ServerBlade. Because there is no additional cost for a deployment server, the Control Tower is a less expensive blade management system than HPs Rapid Deployment Pack. However, for the enterprise space with hundreds of blades, the Altiris deployment server used in HPs ProLiant BL10e might be a better choice for more robust software provisioning. The Control Tower has only an ATA interface, so performance could suffer during high-volume operating system deployments. The ProLiants Altiris deployment server can harness a much faster SCSI disk subsystem to generate better throughput. The HP ProLiant blades with a higher-end deployment server will therefore be a better choice for blade management and provisioning in larger enterprises.
What sets the HP and RLX systems apart from earlier blade servers is their improved management capabilities, although the companies have taken different approaches to server blade management and provisioning. The ProLiant system uses a deployment server model, while the ServerBlade employs a dedicated controller blade for provisioning and management.