Server vendors including HP were clearly taken aback when networking partner Cisco Systems Inc. came up with its own competitive, blade server system and, with much fanfare, pre-announced it with last month. Now that HP is shipping a system similar to Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS), which isn't due until late this quarter, Cisco has lost its head start and will probably have a harder time selling its new system.Like UCS, Matrix marries IT resources
Like Cisco's UCS, the Matrix brings together networking, storage, power, cooling and blade servers into a single package to be purchased as an entire system.
The Matrix builds on HP's c-class blade servers, and includes management software called the Matrix Orchestration Environment, which enables users to build an infrastructure using a templating software that specifies server, networking and storage connections for quick configurations that can be saved and applied to replacement blade servers, said HP's Gary Thome. This "templating" feature is very similar to Cisco's service profiling feature, which does essentially the same thing.
According to HP, with the Orchestration software, it takes 38 minutes to configure new servers and an additional hour to configure the application environment, compared to "several weeks" on a typical blade server system, Thome said. The Matrix fits16 blades in a chassis, and up to 64 servers fit in a 19-inch rack. Any c-class blade can be placed in the Matrix system, including the new 490c, which has 18 dual-inline memory modules, or DIMMs, and supports up to four network interface cards (NICs).
The Matrix also comes with HP's new Virtual Connect 8 Gb Fibre Channel, an interconnect technology that can allocate the bandwidth of a 10 Gb Ethernet network port across four (NIC connections, eliminating the need for extra network equipment.
HP also beefed up its existing Virtual Connect (VC) offering for Matrix with a multi-enclosure stacking feature that connects four enclosures into one VC domain, reducing the number of Ethernet cables to two per rack. HP also added Virtual Connect Enterprise Manager v1.30 as part of the HP Matrix Orchestration Environment, which allows IT to create group-based configurations that can be assigned to server-to-network connections for up to 200 virtual connect domains.Matrix vs. UCS: The differentiators
Pre-configured before shipping to customer sites, the Matrix connects to existing local area networks and storage area networks and supports all major hypervisors and OSes. HP will also provide templates for specific applications for quick and easy deployment.
When asked if the Matrix is purely a reaction to Cisco's UCS, HP said, "We certainly see this as doing everything Cisco is doing and much more."
"This is something we have seen strong interest in from customers who want to move to the next level of automation. It is for people who need to improve agility to deploy hardware and applications very quickly," Thome said. "We have a strong focus on applications as a starting point." This is in contrast to the UCS's networking focus, where Cisco excels.
One Norfolk, VA-based network engineer said Cisco will be able to differentiate UCS with its well-known networking gear. "Don't focus on the server hardware itself. It's the integrated Nexus networking that is the real selling point."
But other users are apprehensive about buying servers from a company that hasn't done blade servers before, even if the company is as well-known as Cisco.
One systems architect who uses HP ProLiant severs and c-class blade systems said he is happy with these systems and believes his company's investments in HP blades are secure because HP is a mainstay in the blade server market. "At the end of the day, we know HP knows servers, they support them well after they've been sold and will be around for years to come. Cisco would be a big unknown on the support front."
Illuminata Inc. analyst Gordon Haff said by combining well known technologies into a unified system, HP poses a serious challenge to Cisco's UCS. The BladeSystem Matrix also highlights "just how many aspects there are to an integrated blade offering, including software assets that Cisco doesn't yet come close to having in any systematic way," he said.
"HP already offered the technologies that go into Matrix. Matrix brings them together is a more consumable way -- which is no small deal," Haff said. "In a way, this makes an even bigger challenge for Cisco. Matrix isn't new stuff that will ship 'soon.' It's technology that HP has already been delivering to customers."