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.
The first thing I did after we rolled Shorty into the working part of the lab was start unplugging stuff. This turns out to be easier than I expected. Each of the blades has a lever that pops out, and you use that to loosen the blade from its backplane connection. Then, you simply grab it and pull it out. Its pretty nondramatic. Insertion of the blades is simply the reverse. You slide the blade into place and use the lever to pull the blade into its backplane connector.
There are a few limitations on what goes where. For example, the HP StorageWorks SB600c AIO (All In One) Storage Server consists of two blades. The server portion, which is essentially an HP BL460c server, must sit immediately below the storage blade. The BL 680c and BL 685c blades must have two adjacent slots available because they take up both of them.
Interconnect modules, which are actually Ethernet and FC switches, slide into slots on the rear of the chassis. You can choose switches from HP, Cisco and Brocade, and the Ethernet switches support 10/100/1000 Base-T Ethernet and iSCSI. This combination of switches means you can make your blades part of an existing corporate SAN, or you can set up the onboard storage server as a NAS (network-attached storage) device or as an iSCSI SAN. The chassis also supports InfiniBand.
The selection of blades includes an HP StorageWorks Ultrium 448c tape blade that supports LTO (Linear Tape-Open) 2 technology, allowing up to 400GB to be stored on a single tape. The blade includes HPs Data Protector Express, and it supports what HP calls OBDR (one button disaster recovery) for easy recovery of applications and data. The tape is bootable and the restoration is automatic.
At 400GB, the tape is not large enough to back up the entire storage server if you were to fill it to capacity, and theres no autoloader available for this drive. However, a higher-capacity drive is in the works, according to HP officials.
The initial tested configuration of the c3000 was the same as the configuration that HP sent out to its channel partners to introduce the device. It included a pair of servers, the storage server and the tape blade, leaving three slots empty. Those slots come with covers designed to maintain cooling. Eventually we found enough servers to fill up all eight of the slots. According to HP officials, there are seven server choices, three storage choices and six different operating systems, including Open VMS (Virtual Memory System) and Linux. All the servers I tried out were running Windows.
Those server blades, incidentally, all contain their own storage. This means that in addition to the 1.16TB on the SAN, each has a pair of disk drives. The servers can also connect to external storage and backup, including external autoloading tape drives. HP officials said that the c3000 is designed for virtualization, and that it can be set up to virtualize both the LAN and the SAN. The device includes migration tools for SQL database managers and Microsoft Exchange. The company said that it expects such migrations to be a major part of the offerings from their channel partners.
HPs suggested retail prices for the c3000 and the blades that go with it are clearly priced for smaller businesses. The configuration that I tested, which is the same as the one that went out to HPs channel partners, is just over $22,000. (A pricing breakdown is at the end of this story.) This includes a ProLiant BL460c, a ProLiant BL465c (those are Intel Xeon 5110 and AMD Opteron 2210 servers, respectively), the HP StorageWorks Ultrium 448c tape blade, the HP StorageWorks SB600c AIO 1.16 TB SAS Storage Blade, HP GbE2 Ethernet blade switch and the c3000 enclosure, which includes the administration module, power supplies and fans.
The company said that the break-even point is three to five blades–in other words, you buy the c3000 and that many modules, and itll cost you less than buying the equivalent in discrete hardware.
Perhaps most encouraging, despite my best efforts, I was unable to actually break anything. Running the c3000 was clearly aimed at companies without a dedicated data center staff, and the device itself was clearly designed to fit into an office environment. HP appears to have met its goal of opening up the efficiencies of blade computing to small and medium enterprises, giving them the benefits and savings that were previously the exclusive domain of much larger companies. I dont know whether it really is so easy a VP could use it, but it sure seems that way.
HP BladeSystem c-Class c3000 Enclosure: $4,299
GbE2 Ethernet Blade Switch: $1,399
HP StorageWorks SB600c AIO 1.16 TB SAS Storage Blade: $9,968
HP StorageWorks Ultrium 448c Tape Blade: $1,999
HP ProLiant BL460c 1.6 GHz Xeon server blade: $2,359
HP ProLiant BL465c 1.8 GHz Opteron server blade: $2,079
Price as tested: $22,103
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