Blade server shoot-out: Dell vs. HP vs. Sun
InfoWorld's head-to-head comparison proves blade servers are sharp enough for enterprise useFollow @pvenezia
The chassis is a complete redesign, boasting a nicely trimmed up-front LCD panel display that can be used to configure a surprising number of chassis operating parameters. The panel has a Web UI counterpart that matches the display exactly, easing "remote hands"-type administration. Up to 16 blades can fit into a single 10U c-Class chassis with a maximum power draw of 3.6kW. The N+N power supply configuration is also nicely handled, with six hot-swap power units laying low at the bottom of the chassis.
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One of the more attractive aspects of blade systems is the ability to mix and match different types of blades within a single chassis. The HP c-Class currently offers three different ProLiant processing blades: the BL460c, an Intel EM64T-based blade; the BL465c, the AMD Opteron counterpart; and the BL480c, a 2P Intel EM64T-based blade. In addition to these blades, HP also offers disk-only blades, which can handle as many as six 2.5-inch SAS drives that appear as local disks to the immediately adjacent blade in the chassis — a very nice touch.
Any of these blades may occupy a single chassis in any density. An interesting and welcome detail is the single internal USB port on each blade ostensibly present to allow use of a USB licensing dongle, because, unfortunately, many applications are licensed in this fashion.
Our c-Class review unit contained preproduction BL460c blades sporting the new Intel quad-core Xeon CPUs. Running at 1.866Ghz with a 4MB L2 cache, a 1066 Mhz FSB, and 4GB of RAM per socket, these BL460c blades proved quite powerful. They turned in respectable SPEChpc scores, due in no small part to the 16-socket limitation of the testing balanced against four cores per socket. However, the lower clock rate per core and limited FSB may have cost HP in the SPEChpc tests, as their scores fell generally in the middle of the three solutions. It's also quite possible that more time needs to be spent on compiler optimizations for these newborn chips.
Like all the other vendors, HP chose InfiniBand as the interconnect for the HPC tests using an external Voltaire switch. But unlike Sun's X8400 blades, much of the c-Class I/O is handled internally with switching modules. This backplane switching architecture provides a closer relationship between the blades and significantly reduces cabling, but proved to be problematic in the lab: The HP engineers struggled with odd issues relating to InfiniBand connectivity and performance throughout the testing. It wasn't until the very end of the day, in fact, that they were able to complete the SPEChpc suite to satisfy the testing requirements.
On the network I/O side, though, HP can run with Cisco switching modules to keep intrachassis communication within the chassis itself. The Cisco modules behave exactly like external Cisco switches, which will please network admins already familiar with Cisco's hardware. External uplinks take the form of eight gigabit Ethernet ports per switch module, resulting in a total of eight ports that can be trunked to datacenter core switches.
BladeSystem runs its own internal management console, accessible via the Web, that can stand alone or be integrated into an HP Insight Manager installation. Multiple c-Class chassis may be managed collectively in this manner, regardless of whether Insight Manager is in place, which is quite useful for large data centers. Administrator-driven tools offer a wide array of monitoring options, from current and maximum power utilization and environmental data to blade health and performance information.