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
Vendors are taking advantage of newer, less power-hungry CPUs and branching out into new levels of I/O that directly combat the common complaints about blade systems, such as heating and cooling concerns and management difficulties. As more infrastructures move toward centralized storage and virtualization, it's impossible to miss the impact that blade systems like these will have.
The near future will introduce another key element into the blade server picture: 10 Gigabit Ethernet. The three blade solutions we tested still rely on link aggregation of individual gigabit Ethernet ports or pass-through interfaces to deliver enough bandwidth to a single blade chassis, but all vendors are currently developing 10 Gig modules that will deliver a one-two punch of significantly reduced complexity and cabling. Once these modules are available, an entire chassis can run with only two 10 Gig connections and power cabling — and costs will decrease even further as 10 Gig ports drop in price.
That doesn't mean the adoption battle is over. The toughest challenge these systems face isn't one of providing the right mix of power and connectivity options, but rather the real-world planning requirements. It's easy to buy one or two 1U servers that may slide beneath the purchasing limits of many IT departments, but it's harder to push through requisitions for the tens of thousands of dollars necessary for a blade system. Without immediate justification for half a dozen or more servers at a time, it may not be possible at all until it's time for a wholesale server refresh.
However, it's easy to justify a blade system when looking at virtualization, as it's cheaper to ramp up virtual servers in a blade-based infrastructure — not to mention the overt cooling and power cost reductions. The additional savings in cabling, switch ports, and administration overhead is harder to quantify, but certainly present.
The Dell, HP, and Sun blade solutions we tested have a wide price range, but the low-end cost of entry is getting lower just as the products are getting better. Blades aren't suitable for every infrastructure, but as our test results show, their increasing power and flexibility mean it's getting easier to justify them in the enterprise world.
Brian Chee, director of Advanced Network Computing Laboratory at the University of Hawaii's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, contributed to this article.
Correction notice: In this review, the HP BL480c should have been identified as a 2P Intel EM64T-based blade. Also, the features table "A Nearly Level Playing Field" should have stated that the maximum RAM per blade for the Dell PowerEdge 1955 is 32GB and the maximum RAM per blade for the HP BladeSystem c-Class is 32GB (BL460c/BL465c), 48GB (BL480c), and 64GB (BL685c); in addition, the table should not have included Intel Itanium2 in the "CPU Type" column for HP BladeSystem c-Class. InfoWorld regrets the errors, which have been corrected.