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HP's new server aims for cloud, Web 2.0 apps

Bridget Botelho
HP launched on Wednesday what it calls its biggest architecture change since blades. The company said the ProLiant SL line of standards-based rack servers is designed for the type of scalability that Web 2.0 and

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Hewlett Packard Co.'s ProLiant SL systems are part of the Extreme Scale-Out, or HP ExSO, portfolio and are basically stripped down rack servers, where server nodes sit in a lightweight rail and trays take up less space and can be changed quickly.

"Imagine a server motherboard with a metal tray that slides into the chassis. This affords flexibility to plug-in nodes like [ProLiant] SL160z, a large memory node, to create a tray that offers a lot of memory. There is also a double-density tray that can house a ton of nodes for the highest possible density in the SL line," said HP's Steve Cumings, a director of HP's scalable computing and infrastructure line.

The systems let IT pros add server nodes to a tray quickly without causing a power surge. "Power is a top concern -- people scaling thousands of servers all watch their power metrics, and it drives the types of hardware they buy," said Christine Martino, VP and GM of HP Scalable Computing and Infrastructure.

ProLiant SL promises easy node additions
The ability to swap parts and make configuration changes to the ProLiant SL servers will appeal to the Web 2.0 and cloud providers like Snapfish, Amazon, social networking and online gaming sites that serve millions of users, Martino said.

BigStockPhoto.com, a website that lets users upload and download photos, supports between 10 million and 20 million pages of content monthly. Its compute needs are less aggressive than the large scale-out companies HP targets with this system, but like the bigger Web 2.0 companies, BigStockPhoto is "growing constantly, so a solution that makes data storage and server growth easy is advantageous," said company founder and CEO Tim Donahue.

Donahue uses a variety of servers, but mostly Dell machines with quad-core processors. "[We have] some with lots of storage space and lower RAM for data storage and some with higher RAM and less drive space, but [we're] using smaller, faster drives for data and processing speed," he said.

The most important features to him are the ease of adding new storage or data processing servers and new network-attached storage or direct-attached storage units, as well as the speed of data recovery in the event of a fault. He also needs to be able to change DNS rapidly and maintain and sync backups for everything, he said.

HP claims to offer that sort of configuration flexibility with the ExSO line. The ProLiant SL servers includes the following features:
  • Consolidated power and cooling infrastructure and unique air flow design that uses 28% less power per server than traditional rack-based servers.
  • Reductions in the metal used in the ProLiant SL servers deliver 31% less weight. This reduces shipping costs, data center floor support requirements and overall facility construction costs.
  • Swappable "compute trays" let administrators swap parts and add compute nodes into the 2U system quickly. It also affords density up to 672 processor cores and 10 terabytes of capacity per 42U rack.
  • The system is based on standard components, so customers can mix and match HP and non-HP storage and compute components in the systems.
ProLiant SL follows in CloudRack footsteps
The ProLiant SL systems are eerily similar to Rackable Systems Inc.'s CloudRack launched last October. CloudRack has similar trays, compact server nodes and power efficiency for scale-out infrastructures, but HP dodged the comparison and claimed its ExSO systems are less proprietary.

Illuminata Inc. analyst Gordon Haff said HP is doing nothing new here. "There are indeed some similarities to what other vendors are doing with respect to selling computing infrastructure starting with a populated rack and going on up from there."

In addition to Rackable Systems' CloudRack, there are also similarities to Sun's design center for its blade servers and even IBM's iDataPlex, Haff said.

"The ProLiant SL is perhaps based on more standard components than some of those other approaches -- although, in reality, HP's expectation is that you'll end up buying lots of racks filled or almost filled with HP-specific gear," Haff said. "The biggest differentiator I see isn't so much the technology foundation [but] that it's coming from a company with an extremely strong track record in delivering x86 servers at low cost in high volume through worldwide channels."

HP's approach to cloud and web 2.0 architecture may be more widely adopted because of the HP name, and because it isn't making scale-out users pay for the type of proprietary software that comes with blade servers, Martino said.

"These customers don't want to pay for management components if they have something they already use," she said. "They typically have their own stack from the OS up to the applications and don't want to have to pay for something they don't need."

Being able to replace failed parts quickly and frequently is also important in a data center with thousands of servers, so another new service HP offers as part of the ExSO portfolio is parts exchange. Customers can get a cabinet of replacement parts that stay on their site, and HP keeps it replenished as part of a warranty service. "This is just a different way of delivering a warranty and a different way of working with our high scale-out customers," Martino said.

Other new services, especially for ExSO, include scheduled on-site repair options and installation services for environments with thousands of servers.

In addition, the company's leasing and lifecycle asset management services subsidiary, HP Financial Services, offers leasing and financing options for the entire line of ExSO products.

In other HP news, the company announced the HP Datacenter Environmental Edge software, which provides visual mapping of environmental variables that administrators can use to improve data center efficiencies.

Environmental Edge uses a system of wireless sensors placed throughout a data center to monitor variables, such as temperature, humidity, air pressure and power consumption.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

And check out our data center blogs: Server Farming, Mainframe Propellerhead and http://itknowledgeexchange.techtarget.com/data-center-facilities/>Data Center Facilities Pro

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Related Topics: Blade servers, VIEW ALL TOPICS

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