Sharpening Server Blades

Next-generation ultradense systems offer better hardware, management and flexibility.

Ultradense server systems, where every essential server component resides in a compact blade form factor, were one of the most impressive technologies to emerge last year. Recent developments ensure these systems wont become yesterdays news, but theyre not about to replace standard rack-mount systems.

eWeek Labs early look at second-generation blade technologies revealed that now is the time to start evaluating blade systems. New blade systems will offer more flexibility, better performance and a level of plug-and-play serviceability that isnt found in any other type of server system. IT managers should begin to gauge how much server blades can improve performance while providing better scalability, manageability and costs savings down the road compared with standard servers.

Early vendors of server blade systems emphasized their systems space- and power-saving capabilities and targeted them at front-end Web applications in data centers. Although innovative, these first-generation systems from RLX Technologies Inc., Fiber-Cycle Networks Inc. and, among others, were built on Transmeta Corp.s Crusoe desktop chip, which was unproven as a server CPU in a data center environment.

These systems were costly to implement and couldnt win over buyers wary of non-Intel-based technology. Of the early vendors, only RLX has survived, by offering higher blade densities in a smaller package than its early rivals could produce.

Now, established server makers including Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. as well as RLX have injected new strength into ultradense server systems, most notably in the form of more robust hardware and better management tools.

These new systems act as general-purpose servers, offering high-density computing power while being more manageable and easier to deploy.

The new players use Intel Corp. CPUs; RLX uses a more optimized Transmeta chip in its new systems.

Who Has What

Compaqs server blade offerings include a suite of management and deployment tools aimed at companies that want to consolidate disparate server infrastructures. The ProLiant BL e-Class ultradense server blades and ProLiant Essentials software package, announced this week, integrate remote management with rapid server deployment and server workload partitioning software.

Compaq will use Altiris Inc.s Express software for automated server provisioning and rapid deployment. The ProLiant Workload Management Pack will allow application monitoring and dynamic resource allocation, giving companies the ability to partition applications to specific hardware resources, increasing the server utilization of multiprocessor blades.

RLXs next-generation RLX ServerBlade 667, available now, provides better management tools and sports a faster processor than did its predecessor, the ServerBlade System 42.

The RLX ServerBlade 667 is a slightly higher-density system than Compaqs product will be, and the Transmeta platform allows RLX to offer blades at lower prices.

The RLX system will therefore be a good choice for sites that need higher density at a lower price. Its unclear, however, if its advantages will be enough to sway sites that are leery of implementing a non-Intel-based product. Furthermore, advances in Intels forthcoming processors will probably make the ServerBlade 667s lower price a short-lived advantage.

HPs server blade products, unveiled last month, have lower server density in a rack compared with Compaqs and RLXs offerings. However, HP is the only vendor to offer different types of blades, including network switch blades and IDE storage blades. For sites that dont require the high server densities and want more flexibility, HPs wares might be the better choice.

Technical Analyst Francis Chu can be reached at [email protected]