As large server farm management and scalability poisons more I-managers sleep, one of the pioneers of large-scale, mission-critical installations has broken IT-brass ranks to launch the box of all boxes: a high-end blade server that can replace a rack housing dozens of machines.
Egeneras flagship product, BladeFrame, was unveiled last week at NetWorld+Interop in Atlanta. Both the box and the company are the brainchildren of Vern Brownell, Egeneras founder and CEO; he got the idea for BladeFrame at The Goldman Sachs Group, where he was chief technology officer responsible for the firms global information technology infrastructure with a staff of 1,300.
BladeFrame is more a server farm in a chassis than a pure blade server.
"We could replace large parts of the data-center complex," Brownell says. "You can do the equivalent [density] of large Unix servers with our architecture, but you dont need to have a set of dual redundant Ethernet switches to connect all processing elements, you dont need a dual set of fiber channel switches. Out of the front of the box we have two or four fiber channel or Gigabit Ethernet connectors so you could connect these big fat pipes to the box."
BladeFrame chassis could support from two to 96 processors, and eventually 480 processors. Processors are interchangeable between various high-end Intel architectures. In a sense, BladeFrame is like a big server rack with all the cabling and supporting communications gear preinstalled — all in a 24-inch-by-84-inch frame.
Whod buy this box and why? Brownell, for one, could have used a product like this at Goldman Sachs. The point of BladeFrame is not to cut hardware costs, but to automate data center management enough to facilitate scaling big server farms that have hit a management bottleneck.
A Long Wait
"When I looked into why does it take so long — up to a month — to get a server installed, I used this as an example: You have three servers to install. In todays environment, you have to have power installed; you have a group that deploys [storage area networks] for you; you have systems management methodology — BMC Patrol or MicroMuse Netcool; you will have consoles you connect to your servers," Brownell says. "Now all of those are physical cables and if you need to do them in a redundant fashion — which you should — even a simple example of three servers starts to add up from a cabling point of view."
Add to these technical challenges the fact that in most big companies different departments are in charge of these different tasks, and combining all the technical and administrative aspects results in an average time-to-deployment for the average server of up to a month.
Early users say the box delivers on its promise. Beta customers, including Web hoster ServerVault, were involved in the final design of BladeFrame.
ServerVault President and CEO Patrick Sweeney says the first application hell use BladeFrame for is storage-on-demand service.
"Their huge thing is density," he says. "Theyve got an incredible degree of density that is essentially unmatched. Its actually doing a nice job of simplifying your network — but there are more subtle differences, like its ability to scale up and down with demand."