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 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.
Sun's ILOM Web interface was not only the fastest, it was also the easiest to navigate of all three solutions. Working from the chassis Web UI, a single click will launch the console application with tabs linking to each blade's local console. Nice.
Backing up the UI is a set of redundant CMMs (Chassis Management Modules). Each module can be separately linked to the network via a single gigabit NIC and all share a common IP address, providing a fast fail-over in the event of hardware problems. The local ILOM card in each blade is also accessed via internal bridging to these Ethernet ports, so these links are very important to normal chassis operation.
The Sun Blade 8000 is a masterpiece of engineering and aesthetically attractive to boot. At $100,000 as tested, it's definitely not a low-cost solution, but its focus isn't on the low-end market. This is a system that begs for a heavy workload — and delivers.
Dell PowerEdge 1955 Blade System
Common thought may lead one to believe that Dell is somewhat behind the curve in the blades world. Much more time and ink has been spent on the blade technology available from Dell's competitors, and hence, Dell doesn't enjoy the mindshare of Sun, HP, and IBM. Even we didn't expect Dell to put up too much of a blade showing.
Common thought turned out to be far from the truth. Whereas the other vendors spent six to eight hours of their testing day working to get the SPEChpc benchmarks running properly and with the best results possible, Dell ran the full benchmark suite in their 90-minute preparation period the day before their official testing day — and those 90 minutes included their initial chassis powerup and system check procedures.
Not only that, but the Dell PowerEdge 1955 produced the best SPEChpc numbers by far of any of the blade systems tested. Color us surprised, and not a little chagrined at our original assumptions.