HP's product announcement coincides with news that the company took the No. 1 spot in the server blade market in Q4 2006 from IBM, with 41.9% revenue share compared with IBM's 37%, according to IDC survey results released earlier this week.
HP's new Virtual Connect offering is designed to simplify networking and common server tasks by eliminating the need to rewire a system every time an administrator needs to add, replace or remove a server.
There are two processes commonly used when adding or changing servers: pass-throughs and switches, explained Mark Potter, vice president of HP BladeSystem. Pass-throughs rely on cables, which can get expensive. Switches cut the cables out but are an extra thing to manage for LAN and SAN administrators.
With either approach, each time a server is added or replaced, it requires coordination between the storage, network and server administrators. The choreographed process can take days, weeks and even months for some data centers, Potter said.
HP is eliminating whole steps in the process of adding servers with Virtual Connect.
"We already have the infrastructure in place to do this, so we thought why not focus on lowering costs and making a more time-efficient
Here's how it works: Before a server is installed, BladeSystem's built-in HP Virtual Connect manager defines a server connection profile for each server bay. The profile establishes the media access control (MAC) addresses for all network interface controllers (NIC), the world wide names (WWN) for all host bus adapters (HBA) and the SAN boot parameters. Then it holds them constant so that even if the server is changed, the configuration and connection profile stay the same. When a new server is installed, the same profile is assigned, HP reported.
After the initial setup, server administrators can programmatically assign blades to a specific SAN or LAN, without having to actually physically wire the blades.
"This system is taking the process down from days to minutes," said Potter. "Server, LAN and SAN administrators love this." Virtual Connect modules can reduce total LAN and SAN connectivity costs by up to 38% versus pass-through modules and consolidate cables and switch ports by up to 94%, HP claimed.
The majority of benefits from Virtual Connect come from operational cost savings: wire once, add, change or recover servers with a few clicks.
The Ethernet module starts at $5,699 and the Fibre Channel module at $9,499.
IBM offers similar I/O virtualization capabilities for its BladeCenter H as part of its Virtual Fabric Architecture. IBM announced the Blade Center Address Manager last month.
Workstation on a blade
HP also introduced the HP ProLiant xw460c, the first workstation blade for the c-Class blade portfolio.
Powered by dual-core Intel Corp. Xeon 5000 series processors, the xw460c delivers data center workstation computing by centralizing control and security into the data center, enabling users to work in multiple locations.
"It seems odd, but when you think of someone like a trader, who has five screens at his workstation throwing off heat, having a blade workstation makes sense," Potter said. "It adds security, gives more space, eliminates heat and noise, and is more energy efficient."
The HP workstation blade has been in the making for five years.
The investment in HP workstation blades is expected to yield a return on investment (ROI) of 336% over five years, according to a white paper released by Financial Insights, an IDC company.
Blade communities, services
As part of today's announcement, HP also publicized a new online BladeSystem community for customers, partners and industry observers through its BladeSystem Solution Builder Program. Blade Connect is a forum for user interaction.
The HP Virtualization Assessment Service, meanwhile, provides a detailed view of the current server environment, evaluates the data and recommends changes for improving ROI through IT consolidation and virtualization. Also, the HP Quick Thermal Assessment Service for HP BladeSystem offers analysis of data center space, and power and cooling resource requirements for HP BladeSystem deployments.
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Bridget Botelho, News Writer