Exclusive review: HP BladeSystem Matrix

HP's state-of-the-art blade server system and array of automation tools haven't squeezed all manual labor out of service provisioning, but they show the automated and adaptive datacenter is within reach

Bottom Line

HP BladeSystem Matrix incorporates a wide array of moving parts and ties them together well. It’s still a significantly complex solution, but part of the purchase price includes integration. The hardware is impressive, and the management tools are functional if not completely polished. HP might not have reached the Holy Grail of general datacenter automation just yet, but it's definitely on the right track.

During the Big Dig, the city of Boston erected a sign saying, "Rome wasn't built in a day. If it was, we would have hired their contractor." That's a good way to describe the general state of affairs regarding the ideal of divorcing services from hardware and pushing server management away from the physical layer. HP's BladeSystem Matrix goes a long way toward realizing this ideal of an automated datacenter, providing a wide array of very useful tools and functions, but falling just shy of the lofty goal of truly hands-free datacenter service deployment. Of course, nobody else has reached that particular goal either.

Although Matrix is newly packaged, it's not accurate to portray it as a completely new product. It's built on the foundation of HP Systems Insight Manager, with a heaping helping of associated services such as rapid-deployment software (HP's RDP), Microsoft Active Directory, server virtualization (VMware, XenServer, or Microsoft Hyper-V), and hardware in the form of the HP BladeSystem c-Class blade chassis and HP StorageWorks EVA Fibre Channel storage framework. At the center of all these moving parts sits the new piece: HP Insight Orchestration.

[ Take InfoWorld's scrolling tour through service provisioning and management in HP BladeSystem Matrix. ]

It's probably best to think of Insight Orchestration as, well, an orchestra conductor, weaving a multitude of players into a coherent symphony. The sheet music for this particular piece is based on templates created via a drag-and-drop, Flash-based interface, and reference everything needed to build a single server or a group of physical or virtual servers, including all network and storage links. With the possible exception of Scalent's Virtual Operating Environment, nothing is as close to defining the automated or adaptive datacenter as HP's Insight Orchestration.

From the ground up
It all starts with the hardware. HP's Matrix product is built from existing HP hardware offerings, including the EVA4400 and BladeSystem c7000 blade chassis. In the mix are the usual Fibre Channel SAN fabric switches and Ethernet switches. However, the two network switches really don't play into the overall picture. This is possible due to the 10G Ethernet modules and the 8Gb Fibre Channel links present in the chassis. Essentially, each chassis has all the bandwidth it needs with these links, releasing administrators and the Insight Orchestration software from the onus of having to interact at the layer-2 level to provide VLAN assignments and such.

The hardware in my test lab consisted of two c-Class chassis with a total of five blades, two EVA 4400 SAN arrays, two 8Gb Fibre Channel switches, and an HP ProCurve 5406zl switch with four 10G links and a few gigabit Ethernet links. This was the core of the Matrix solution. On the side were a few ProLiant DL 360 G5s running Microsoft Active Directory, the HP ProLiant Essentials Rapid Deployment Pack (RDP) server, and the HP Insight suite, including the Insight Orchestration software. All this hardware was separated into two racks, each roughly half full.

The setup and initial configuration of the Matrix product is not for the faint of heart. You must know your way around all the products quite well and be able to provide an adequate framework for the Matrix layer to function. Fortunately, HP currently sells the Matrix fully assembled only, and when the racks arrive, an HP integration tech comes along to get the solution up and running, provide some training, and do basic integration with an existing infrastructure.

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Test Center Scorecard
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HP BladeSystem Matrix799978

8.3

Very Good

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