Hewlett-Packard Fires Up New PC Blades

With a new combination of hardware and software, HP is looking to claim its own stake in the increasingly competitive field of PC blades.

In the increasingly competitive field of PC blades, Hewlett-Packard is jumping back into the mix June 11 with a major update of its Consolidated Client Infrastructure software and hardware.

HP, which also rolled out updates to its thin-client PCs in January, is looking to offer a better desktop experience for workers with the revamped CCI hardware and software as well as increasing management capabilities for IT administrators.

On the hardware side, HP is introducing two new PC blades—the bc2000 and the bc2500—which will use single- and dual-core Athlon 64 processors from Advanced Micro Devices with low-watt thermal envelopes that support the companys dense, blade architecture.

For software, HP is bundling its PC blades with its Remote Graphics Software, which will give employees the same desktop image, graphics and video capabilities found on conventional desktop PCs or laptops. Also, HP is offering an update of its Session Allocation Manager, which provides a platform for users to store files and other data through a companys SAN (storage area network), as well as better management tools for the IT personnel.

The new CCI package also offers employees remote access to their desktop profile through better VPN capabilities.

"This is our third-generation solution and what we are doing with PC blades reflects the changing work force and how its evolving, as well as all those new risks that IT has to deal with," said Tate Davis, product manager for HPs CCI.

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"What disasters like Katrina taught us was that IT needed a plan not only for the data center but for the end user as well," Davis said. "IT now has to have a plan or solution to mitigate those risks. At the same time, theres a push to chase labor and capital in a global economy and deliver alternatives to the work force."

Like thin clients, PC blades look to improve manageability and security by housing the applications, operating system and key data on the corporate networks rather than the desktop PCs. The difference is that with PC blades, each appliance has a dedicated server.

Since the start of the year, various IT vendors have looked to offer more PC blade and thin-client products as an alternative to traditional desktops. ClearCube, one of the leading producers of PC blades, has looked to expand its offerings, including giving users more virtualization capabilities that allow for more desktop profiles to sit on one physical machine. IBM also recently introduced a dedicated blade that works with thin clients and third-party management software.

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, said that unlike other PC blade offerings, HP can offer a PC blade with both dedicated and shared resources, along with a blade architecture that is dense and uses less power in the data center thanks to the low-watt AMD processors.

In addition, HP, of Palo Alto, Calif., is the worlds largest PC vendor, which gives it a design and research advantage compared with some of the other vendors in this field, Enderle said.

"This gives them the advantage of offering the widest breadth of platforms and server offerings," he said.

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One advantage that CCI gives to users, Davis said, is that unlike PC blades that use virtualization software to slice up the physical server, HPs solution gives knowledge workers the maximum amount of compute power that they need when running multiple applications at the same time.

"There is a user expectation out there that they want their infrastructure to handle both the high peaks and the low valleys," Davis said.

The HP PC blades come in a 3U (5.25-inch) enclosure, which can support 20 blades in each enclosure. HP can also squeeze 280 blades in a 42U (73.5-inch) rack. The blades themselves can be configured with 1GB, 2GB or 4GB of DDR2 (double data rate 2) RAM and each offers a SATA (Serial ATA) hard disk drive with an 80GB capacity.

A fully configured rack, Davis said, uses about eight kilowatts of power and can support between 280 and 360 user images depending on how the IT department configures the system.

The bc2000 uses the single-core Athlon 64 2100+ processor, which has a nine-watt thermal envelopes, while the bc2500 uses the dual-core Athlon 64 X2 3100+ chip, which has a 20-watt thermal envelope.

On the software side, the HP CCI can be bundled with either the companys own Remote Graphics Software or Microsofts Remote Desktop Protocol software. In addition to supporting Windows XP, the systems can also support the 32-bit version of the Vista operating system. There are no current plans to support the 64-bit version of Vista.

HPs PC blades, Davis said, work with the companys own thin clients and workstations but can also be configured to work with PCs from third-party vendors.

Both the bc2000 and the bc2500 will start shipping to customers the week of June 11. The bc2000 sells for $1,000 each when bought in packs of 10, while the bc2500 sells for $1,500 when purchased in packs of 10, according to HP.

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