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
Internal chassis management is even more impressive. The chassis has enough smarts to determine the heat and power loads present and advise admins on proper fan population and placement. It will adapt power supplies as needed and where needed, as well as drop power levels to quiescent blades when possible. This results in lower heat production and power consumption, which are hot buttons (pun intended) as far as blade development and deployment go.
Not everything with the HP blade, however, worked as smoothly as its chassis management. The console redirection available in each blade's ILO cards was somewhat lacking, with problematic mouse tracking and display artifacts. This can be very irritating when work must be performed directly to the console of each blade. The only other console redirection method involves using a front-mounted dongle port to connect a keyboard, monitor, and mouse directly to each blade. Not pretty, but it does work.
We also encountered a few oddities with the chassis, including one blade that seemed to have intermittent connectivity problems and another that spontaneously lost contact with its internal SmartArray RAID controller. It's highly likely that the pre-release nature of the blades contributed to these issues.
Nevertheless, HP completed the full SPEChpc benchmark suite runs at the small and medium dataset levels within a single day, complying with the testing parameters. A few lab hiccups aside, the BladeSystem c-Class is an impressive piece of engineering. The wide variety of blade options, including the disk-only blades; up-front display; adaptive power and cooling features; and density show that the c-Class definitely adheres to HP's "Invent" slogan.
Sun Blade 8000 Modular System
Although the other blade solutions in our test ranged in size from 7U to 10U, Sun's system came in the door at a whopping 19U. Of course, Sun's take on blades is a little different: It was the only blade solution to support four CPUs per blade, and can handle 10 blades per chassis. With dual-core AMD Opteron CPUs, this equates to 160 cores in a single 42U rack.
That rack had better have plenty of power and cooling, though, as the Sun Blade 8000 draws a significant amount of juice, requiring approximately 9kW (actual draw is generally lower). That's quite a lot compared with the HP and Dell blades, which pull roughly 3.6kW each. Luckily, the Sun system's density makes up for its power thirst.
It took Sun's engineers quite some time to get the tests up and running, and the Sun Blade 8000's results in the SPEChpc benchmark weren't the best. They did better in the SPECseis test, and I'm certain that if they were given more time to optimize the other two tests, Sun's overall results would have been much better.
Sun's X8400 Server Modules are large, each with two 2.5-inch SAS or SATA drives and a RAID0/1 controller. Memory expands to 64GB per blade with 4GB DIMMs, granting a fully populated chassis a total of 640GB of RAM across 40 sockets. Those sockets can hold Opteron 870s at 2.0Ghz, 875s at 2.2Ghz, or 885s at 2.6Ghz, all with 1MB L2 cache. And last week, Sun announced availability of AMD Rev F processors in its new X8420 Server Modules.
I/O options are plentiful. Each blade can handle as many as six different external I/O forms, and there are two different methods of delivering the physical I/O ports to the blades themselves. The X8400 is more focused on pass-through ports than using integrated switching; it has wide Network Express Modules that aggregate a single 8x PCI Express lane from each blade, as well as smaller Express Modules also leveraging a single 8x PCI Express lane, but built into the slim PCI-SIG form factor. These smaller modules reside at the top of the chassis, and are designed to provide more granular I/O access to each blade.