HP sharpens blade servers to battle IBM

Hewlett-Packard is making a push into the growing blade server market with its new blade servers and architecture, saying their new products mix the best of blades with the best of rack servers.

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) announced a new blade server architecture that it says incorporates servers and storage into one box with a higher level of computing power.

Three years in the making, the new BladeSystem is called the C-Class and meant to challenge IBM for share in the growing blade server market.

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"I think it's a good update," said Charles King, an analyst with Hayward, Calif.-based firm Pund-IT. "It's a move into a significantly different architecture than what HP had before. I think the power management options are well in tune with what the market is doing. Some of the centralized management features are pretty solid."

Because IBM is building on its blade servers, King said that "clearly HP needed to come out swinging. The new product looks very good, and let's see what the market says."

HP and IBM said that blade server systems could eventually become a "data center in a box," combining computing, networking and storage into a group of chassis. In its lead -up to the event on Wednesday, HP even went as far as predicting that its announcement would be a data center "revolution."

But King isn't so sure about the prospects of that level of convergence in blade servers.

"The idea of the data center in a box that includes servers, networking and storage is certainly valid," he said. "But from my standpoint, the number of businesses that would be interested in that kind of offering is limited."

HP's new BladeSystem includes a 17.5-inch-high chassis called the c7000 enclosure, whichthat can hold 16 half-height blade servers and takes up as much space in the data center as 10 1U servers. The company will ship out the enclosure along with two Intel Corp. Xeon-based blades, the half-height BL460c and the full-height BL480c. Other processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. will be incorporated later this year for these blades.

The chassis can hold 16 BL460c or eight BL480c blades. HP officials would not divulge how much the blades would cost, saying the prices would be available when they ship out.

HP's Web site, however, lists the BL460c, with dual-core processors and 32 GBgigabytes of memory capacity, at $2,829. The BL480c, also with dual-core processors but with 48 GBgigabytes of memory capacity, is listed at $4,799. The enclosure has four options ranging from $4,599 to $8,283, with the basic enclosure including two power supplies and four cooling fans.

Some other highlights of the new BladeSystem include:

  • A management program called Insight Control that allows access from a remote location, as well as a 2-inch-by-2-inch liquid-crystal display that is built onto the chassis so data center administrators can configure, diagnose and solve problems for blades in the system.
  • Virtual Connect, available in September, which will allow data center managers to wire and configure the blades into the network and storage once, and then replace them as needed without having to repeat configuration.
  • Thermal Control, which includes HP's Active Cool Fans that use a design borrowed from remote-control model airplanes.

    Server vendors and analysts have predicted that blades will continue to gain on rack servers in the data center because of their networking and density capabilities.

    "If you look at the blade market today, it's at a fairly new phase," said Ann Livermore, executive vice president of HP's Technology Solutions Group , said during an elaborate presentation at HP headquarters in Palo Alto on Wednesday. She added later that the blade server system is "going to be the fastest -growing computer architecture in the history of the computing industry."

    HP's BladeSystem C-Class is expected to ship in July.

    Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer

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