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
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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.
The two NEM modules in our test unit delivered four gigabit Ethernet ports to each blade. The InfiniBand interfaces slotted into the Express Modules, delivering two InfiniBand ports to each blade on a single module. This design is quite flexible and its hot-swap capability is certainly attractive.
Although the Sun Blade 8000 is technically a blade system, it fits the image of a modular server system. The raw horsepower available across each blade's four sockets and the impressive array of modular I/O options position the system directly into the HPC and virtualization arena. This is not a system to run simple Web or directory servers — unless they're virtualized.
Because of its power, the Sun Blade 8000 really doesn't compare directly to the other blade systems in the test. The Dell and HP solutions can go three ways (standard server builds, HPC, and virtualization) but the Sun solution finds its sweet spot in HPC, high-end database, and virtualization tasks.
The Sun Blade 8000's hardware fits a virtualization build-out plan like a glove. Available I/O options are far better than the other blade systems, and the four sockets per blade, the NUMA (Non-Uniform Memory Access) inherent in the AMD Opteron technology, and maximum RAM supported all make virtualization a foregone conclusion. As a VMware engineer speculated during testing the week after the blade server tests, "Wow … at standard loads with quad-core CPUs, this thing could support 600 virtual machines all by itself." Enough said.
The 8000's management framework falls in line with Sun's N1 Network Manager, and the chassis' Web management interface is quite quick and usable. Of all the solutions tested, Sun's Java-based remote console application is the fastest and easiest to use, not to mention that it runs on all workstation platforms.