Blade server review: Dell, HP, IBM battle for the virtual data center

InfoWorld tests the Intel Westmere-packing Dell PowerEdge M1000e, HP BladeSystem c7000, and IBM BladeCenter H blade server systems

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Wrap it up
On the last day of testing, we were faced with the daunting challenge of preparing well over a ton of blade server hardware for shipping back to their respective companies. It's never a good time, but we managed to get all the crates back on their pallets and ready for the freight companies to drive them to the airport. It was an impressively long few weeks of deep dives into what makes modern blade servers tick, and we came away with some basic facts.

Measured on an  apples-to-apples basis, the Dell, HP, and IBM blade systems will all hit their performance marks. There is no significant difference in blade performance in similarly equipped blades from any of these vendors. Thus, without meaningful differences in performance to go on, our evaluations of this batch of blades come down to features, options, price, and management tools. Please refer to the separate write-ups on the Dell PowerEdge M1000e, HP BladeSystem c7000, IBM BladeCenter H, and the Supermicro SuperBlade for the full details, but we'll offer some brief observations here.

[ Intel's new Nehalem-EX processor for SMP servers brings eight cores, massive memory support, mainframe-like RAS features, and huge performance gains to large-scale workloads. See InfoWorld review: Intel Xeon Nehalem-EX lives large. ]

Since our last look, Dell has certainly been busy streamlining its blades management interface, and the company has introduced some extremely compelling features such as the global BIOS and firmware update tools. HP's management is also well rounded, but is inexplicably missing a few features that the other vendors offer, such as those BIOS and firmware updates and the ability to map local shares for virtual drive and ISO image mounting. IBM is no slouch, with a spartan yet navigable management GUI. Of course, all three vendors also offer external global management tools to take blade and server management to the next level, but these tools were beyond the scope of our review.

Given a middle-of-the-road use case, you'll do well with any of these solutions. If you want a solid blade server platform on the lower end of the pricing scale and don't need extras like storage blades, then the Dell M1000e is a good fit. If you need internal storage, such as for a branch office deployment, or any of a wide array of blade types, then the HP c7000 is right up your alley. If you don't mind losing two blade slots per chassis but need some extra redundancy, then the IBM BladeCenter H might be just the ticket. If you're worried about the bottom dollar and don't mind adding elbow grease and sacrificing some performance and options, then the Supermicro SuperBlade is an extremely affordable way to add blades to your data center.

Whatever the choice, it's obvious that the current crop of blade servers is more than ready to ride the virtualization wave and meet just about any other challenge. By choosing one of these blade systems over ordinary 1U servers, you can expect not only stellar performance, but also greater availability, comprehensive management, and lower power and cooling costs. The advanced power and cooling management in some of these solutions can enhance the overall cost savings as well.

Blade server solutions at a glance

 Dell PowerEdge M1000eHP BladeSystem c7000IBM BladeCenter HSupermicro SuperBlade
Dynamic power/coolingYesYesNoNo
Storage bladesNoYesNoNo
Remote share mountingYesNoNoYes
Embedded multichassis managementNoYesNoNo
Virtualized 10GNoYesYesNo
Virtualization-specific bladesNoYesYesNo
CostChassis with one 10G switch: $17,160. Chassis with four blades with dual-CPU X5670, 24GB pf RAM, dual 72GB SAS drives, dual 10G interfaces: $41,792.Chassis with six power supplies, one 10G Virtual Connect module, one gigabit switching module: $21,573. Chassis with four blades with dual-CPU X5670, 24GB of RAM, dual 72GB SAS drives, dual 10G interfaces: $52,057.Chassis with one 10G switch: $16,196. Chassis with four blades with dual-CPU X5670, 24GB of RAM, dual 72GB SAS drives, dual 10G interfaces: $64,285.Chassis with two blades with dual 2.4GHz AMD Opteron 2378 CPUs, 8GB of RAM, 3.5-inch SATA drives, dual 1GB NICs: $6,694.

This story, "Blade shoot-out: Dell, HP, IBM battle for the virtual data center," was originally published at Follow the latest developments in servers, processors, and other hardware at

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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