Bantam blade battle
Who has best leveraged Xeon to harness the power of traditional servers in a miniscule form factor: HP, IBM, or RLX?Follow @infoworld
RLX ServerBlade 2800i, System 600ex, IBM eServer BladeCenter HS20, eServer BladeCenter,HP ProLiant BL20p G2 and p-Class Server Blade Enclosure
The current generation of blade servers is finally ready to fulfill the promise of offering state-of-the-art computing power and connectivity at a fraction of the size of a conventional 1U or 2U, rack-mounted, general-purpose server. And it’s about time, too.
The first generation of blade servers was optimized to maximize rack density at the expense of performance and capacity. So until now, blades have been best-suited for niche applications. You could pack a lot of servers into a rack all right, as long as you didn’t mind if they had slow Pentium III processors, limited storage space, and few networking options.
But that’s all changed, as you can see in today’s crop of high-horsepower blade servers, which offer high performance in a smaller, easier-to-deploy form factor.
A blade server, due to its smaller size, will never provide all the functionality of a 1U server, but today’s blades come close. Yes, there are still trade-offs — even the most modern blade servers lack the expandability and high-availability features of a standard server. However, they make up for it in convenience and density.
The best blade applications require that a large number of servers be packed into a tight area, and the servers themselves must be considered as replaceable units. Ideal applications include Web server farms, hosting environments, and database clusters.
They’re also good for field offices. A single small rack can contain dozens of servers that can be connected or replaced by nontechnical staff.
When you add external storage, either with Ethernet-based NAS or FC (Fibre Channel)-based SANs, a dual-processor blade can be quite a powerful server. All of the servers we tested can be connected to FC-based SANs with the appropriate daughter cards installed in each blade — another difference from previously tested blade-servers.
Blades may also find a new home in SOA (services-oriented architecture). But to accommodate the move toward SOA, blade designers must continue to simplify their automated and managed deployment tools, so individual server blades can become invisible, plug-and-play components of a datacenter.
Let the duel commence
InfoWorld invited four vendors — Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and RLX Technologies — to participate in a comparative review of blade servers. This test focused on dual-processor Xeon blades, because that is the practical minimum hardware requirement for running current operating systems, such as Windows 2003 Server, and enterprise-class applications, such as BEA WebLogic, IBM WebSphere, Oracle, or Microsoft Exchange.
Of the four, Dell was unable to participate because the company is currently shipping only a Pentium III-based blade, reviewed earlier this year.