Hewlett Packards c3000 blade system breaks new ground in the server and storage industry. While blade systems have been around for several years, this is the first time such a system has been specifically aimed at smaller businesses.
To do this, HP designed a blade chassis that was small enough to fit into a server closet, priced low enough that smaller companies could afford it and with environmental requirements that didnt mandate a data center. Indeed, HP has designed what could be described as a data center in a box.
In this case, the box that contains the c3000 blade system is a smaller version of the c7000 blade chassis introduced by HP last year. It uses the same c-series blades as its larger sibling but can handle only eight of the half-height blades developed by HP for this series of devices. In a move away from the traditional blade approach, HP does not assume the existence of a corporate SAN (storage area network), data-center-quality power and cooling, or even a separate core switching or routing environment. In fact, a companys entire infrastructure could be integrated within a single blade chassis.
To make the c3000 useful to small and midsize businesses, the device had to support functions that arent always seen in other blade servers. One example is a tape blade that supports up to 400 GB of tape backup; another is a storage server/SAN that will handle a little more than a terabyte of data. For companies that do have an external SAN, HP provides iSCSI and Fibre Channel switches that will let them connect the c3000.
eWEEK Labs first look
To get a better look at this new idea in blade infrastructure, eWEEK Labs visited HPs Houston, Texas, development labs, where the c3000 was born. This is the place where HP creates all its server and storage products, whether destined for blades or not. At the lab, I was able to test not only the chassis but also all the blades that currently work in it. HP also made available expert assistance as I tried to make things fail. With a product so new that few if any customers have actually seen it, this can be helpful.
The testing process was carried out in two stages. Once the obligatory attempt at "Death by PowerPoint" was carried out by HPs marketing group, I spent quite a while with the c3000s built-in management system. (It was also interesting to find out that the internal name for the c3000 at HP was "Shorty.")
Once we rolled the c3000 into the lab itself, I got to attack the hardware.
The idea behind the c3000 was to bring blade solutions to what the company calls the "Fortune 500,000." This device is designed to live in a standard office environment, run on normal 120-volt AC power and cool itself with ambient air instead of needing chilled water or forced cool air. Its designed to be portable (sort of) and can even be outfitted with wheels. HP has focused so strongly on making the c3000 office-compatible that the company says it needs less than half the power of a standard portable hair dryer.
So simple, ...
Perhaps the key marketing claim, however, is that Shorty is so simple to use that even a VP can do it.
I guess that depends on the VP, but the c3000 was pretty easy to use.
The HP Onboard Administrator can be reached using an Ethernet connection to the chassis. The administrator includes a series of graphical menus and displays that let you control the chassis itself, all the embedded components (such as the DVD drive) and any blades you install. It also gives you remote access to the HP Insight Manager.
You can actually run the Insight Manager in two ways. Theres a small LCD screen that pops out of the bottom center of the chassis, and then pivots so that you can view it easily. The screen displays the menus and screens of the Insight Manager, and I could control its actions using a set of arrow keys. This same screen, along with images of the arrow keys, is what you also see remotely.
The Onboard Administrator, meanwhile, is a browser-based application that lets the network administrator control every aspect of the chassis and the installed devices. You can, for example, keep an eye on your storage server, the tape backup system or the installed servers. You can look at the current status of any of the installed Ethernet or FC switches, and you can configure, or change configuration of, any of those items.
The Onboard Administrator is highly intuitive. Within a few minutes of trying it out, it was clear that anyone with even basic levels of network administration training could use the c3000 in normal operation.
One of the reasons HP wanted to make the c3000 so easy to use was to make deployment easier for HPs channel partners. According to HP officials, the c3000 is designed to be configured and deployed in something like five hours. The company says that a normal network that includes similar storage, SAN and server solutions, along with applications, could be deployed in about four days.
The choices for the c3000 include a variety of servers (HPs 1U (1.75-inch) ProLiant servers are present in blade form here), good storage options and several switches. Regardless of which one you plug into the c3000 chassis, the Onboard Administrator detects it, and then presents an image of the blade system complete with a the existing blades installed in the spots where you plugged them in.
The image of the front and rear of the c3000 is shown on the right side of each screen. Roll your mouse pointer over a portion of either image, and the name and basic status of the device pops up. If you click, the device is highlighted. If you click on the Insight Manager screens location, you can see and operate it just as you could if you were physically watching the screen and touching the buttons.
The Onboard Administrator also lets you control other embedded features. The DVD drive, for example, can be used by any of the servers that might be installed in the chassis. Theres help for every screen, and any attempt to do something you might regret (such as reconfiguring the SAN) results in warnings and asks for assurances.