Exclusive review: HP BladeSystem Matrix

HP's state-of-the-art blade server system and array of automation tools haven't squeezed all manual labor out of service provisioning, but they show the automated and adaptive datacenter is within reach

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As you might assume, there is a self-service portal available in Insight Orchestration that allows non-administrators to provision services from prebuilt templates. As with all other aspects of the Matrix solution, users can be assigned privilege levels allowing them to choose from specific templates or even design new templates without having full access to Insight Orchestration.

Assuming that the users are technical enough to grok the relatively simple interface, the self-service portal can remove IT admins from the server build process altogether, an option not to be taken lightly.

Push and pull
In addition to automating server build processes, Insight Orchestration hooks into HP Insight Manager's X2X migration tools, allowing admins to migrate servers from virtual to physical and back again -- even converting between hypervisor flavors with V2V migrations. I ran a basic test of this, migrating a VMware-based Windows Server 2003 virtual machine to a physical blade. The whole process took about 30 minutes, and aside from a few early licensing issues unrelated to the actual migration, it went off without a hitch.

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There's also a tool called Capacity Advisor. This is roughly analogous to VMware's Capacity Planner and allows you to monitor power, CPU, RAM, network, and disk I/O on physical servers and create reports based on that data. And there's a function named Smart Solver, which lets you run what-if scenarios based on that data, to determine how best to collapse legacy workloads into a virtual environment or new physical model. This tool also provides forecasting, which attempts to calculate how certain workloads will increase over time, and other functions to generate warnings when limits are eclipsed.

Coloring outside the lines
One big question with any automated system is what happens when something goes wrong. In IT, you can always count on something going wrong. Someone will inadvertently create a VM outside of Insight Orchestration, or a hardware failure will hit in the middle of a build, or any number of other problems will rear their ugly heads. Thus, I set about to break a few builds and see how Insight Orchestration coped with the problems and what the recovery process entailed.

I threw a number of wrenches into the gears, even a few unintentional ones, and overall the system was manageable and recoverable in every case. In the screenshots accompanying this article, you'll note one or two status displays with a large number of Failed jobs -- most of those were failed on purpose.

In a few instances, things did get out of sync, such as when an automated VMware ESX build on a physical blade had an HBA hiccup during the final boot and began a reboot cycle because it couldn't access the disk. Per Insight Orchestration, status remained at 60 percent while this was happening, because the system hadn't completed its build. I canceled the job in Orchestration, then rebooted the blade. This time, the HBA attached to the LUN properly and the new ESX blade booted normally -- but Orchestration still thought the job had failed and did not mark the server as present and accounted for.

Not all things are automatic in the Matrix. The EVA 4400 storage management console is not completely integrated into the overall solution, requiring manual administration.
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