Blade server review: Supermicro SuperBlade

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The SuperBlade is an amazingly affordable blade server system, yet it still offers a few frills

The specs for the Supermicro SuperBlade chassis and blades are nowhere near those of the Dell, HP, or IBM blade systems we tested, but then again, neither is the price. The SuperBlade is an incredibly affordable way into blade servers, and though it won't draw many oohs and aahs, it will provide a solid platform for just about any small to medium-size IT endeavor.

In our performance benchmarks, the SuperBlade was constrained by four-core AMD Opteron blades that are now several generations old. Not surprisingly, they didn't hold a candle to the brand-new Westmere-EP chips in the other vendors' products, but they did perform quite well given their limitations. These blades will continue to do just fine in small to medium-size virtualization workloads and standard server roles. If you need the performance of a Nehalem, Supermicro offers Nehalem-based blades for the SuperBlade chassis; one would expect that Westmere-based blades will be available soon as well.

[ InfoWorld compares the leading blade server solutions: "Blade server shoot-out: Dell, HP, and IBM battle for the virtual data center." ]

Chassis and blades
The Supermicro SuperBlade chassis is a 6U, 10-blade unit that seems to offer a no-frills approach to blade computing, except that there are actually a few frills here and there.

The blades we tested were equipped with two four-core AMD Opteron Shanghai 2378 CPUs at 2.4GHz and 8GB of RAM. Each blade had two 3.5-inch SATA drives. In terms of performance, these blades were not even close to the others. They're also nowhere near in price. The entire blade chassis, two gigabit Ethernet switches, two dual-Opteron blades, and power supplies came to $2,581, or basically the cost of a single low-spec blade in the Dell, HP, or IBM chassis.

Management tools
As befits a super-low-cost blade system, the SuperBlade management tools are basic. However, they also include a few features not found on the other systems. For instance, the KVM consoles were quite functional and speedy, and they offer a complete soft keyboard that allows for extremely simple keyboard interactions to the blade consoles no matter what client system is in use. This feature can be a lifesaver in certain remote management situations.

For such a frugal system, there are numerous higher-level features available, such as the ability to mount shares for ISO image and virtual media mounting. Basic blade status information is easily accessible, including internal temperatures and voltages for each blade (which Dell's onboard management tool couldn't provide).

The management tools essentially stop there. Although you won't find multichassis management or other advanced features, the SuperBlade covers the necessities and the tools perform quite well.

In keeping with the no-frills concept, there's very little in terms of power management in the SuperBlade chassis. The only real option available is the CMM (Chassis Management Module) Operation Mode, which is selectable between Enterprise Blade Mode and Office Blade Mode. The former is designed for higher performance at the expense of more noise and power consumption, while the latter results in lower performance but also reduced noise generation and power draw. However, we didn't have a chance to pull independent power figures from the chassis. Given the extremely low price of this solution, power consumption is a low priority.

The main reason we included the SuperBlade in our review was to point out that a solid blade solution can be had without breaking the budget. You don't get all the features of the $40,000-plus systems or the blazing speed of cutting-edge blades. But you do get a solid chassis, centralized management, and blades that offer the performance of 1U servers at a lower cost per server and at lower overall power utilization.

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