Users of Hewlett-Packard blade servers have a new high-availability and disaster-recovery option at their disposal with Egenera PAN Manager software, which was certified last week for the HP BladeSystem c-class servers
The Egenera software sits on top of the I/O virtualization capabilities provided by HP Virtual Connect and its FlexFabric module. PAN Manager detects hardware failures and automatically re-provisions the server onto another blade in the pool either locally or remotely.
Egenera, a 10-year-old I/O virtualization pioneer based Marlboro, Mass., started out selling its own proprietary BladeFrame hardware, but has recently pursued a software strategy, certifying its PAN Manager software on Dell and Fujitsu blades.
Poor man’s HA
One Egenera customer who runs Egenera HA software on Dell blades said it helped his company build out a highly available SAP environment on commodity hardware without having to implement troublesome and expensive clustering software or taking a performance hit by running on top of VMware.
The IT director, who works for a large U.S. retailer, co-locates the company’s production environment and thus did not want to have to send out engineers in the event of a hardware failure. Instead, it relies on Egenera PAN Manager to detect a hardware failure and automatically rebuild and restart the failed host on another node in the environment.
“We were trying to eliminate as much complexity as possible,” the IT director said. “We didn’t want to do clustering if we didn’t have to, and we wanted bare metal performance.”
Further, the combination of Dell plus Egenera provides this company with equivalent or better functionality than it could get from, say, a Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS), which incorporates notions of I/O virtualization and stateless blades and can be configured to provide automatic reprovisioning.
“When I’ve had discussions with Cisco, [what they describe] sounds exactly like what I have with Egenera,” he said. “They call things differently, but conceptually it’s very, very close.”
Virtual Connect: HP’s Achilles Heel?
Before the Egenera deal, Hewlett-Packard BladeSystem users could achieve do some level of HA through Microsoft Cluster Server or through its own Virtual Connect Enterprise Manager, said Bob Laliberte, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass. But PAN Manager could make HP blades an easier sell for environments that want to run database and other I/O intensive workloads, he said.
But there’s a catch. In the context of HP BladeSystem, PAN Manager will rely on I/O virtualization capabilities provided by HP Virtual Connect (Egenera provides that capability on its own in non-HP environments). That could make PAN Manager a non-starter for some HP BladeSystem shops, which report middling success with HP’s I/O virtualization efforts.
“We bought Virtual Connect on our first three chassis, but now we’re unbuying it,” said Kent Altena, technical engineer at FBL Insurance in West Des Moines, Iowa.
FBL started with Virtual Connect several years ago when there were no other 10 Gigabit (Gb) options for HP blade chassis, Altena said. “We bought into the hype that HP knew what it was doing.”
Unfortunately, FBL’s networking team reported that Virtual Connect isn’t sufficiently “enterprise-grade.” For example, it requires that the server chassis to be taken down during an upgrade. Going forward, FBL will replace Virtual Connect with 10 Gb Ethernet pass-through modules back to its traditional Cisco switches.
To be fair, Virtual Connect has its fans, said Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at StorageIO, who estimates that about half of BladeSystems go out with Virtual Connect enabled.
“The challenge with Virtual Connect is ‘what is your expectation?’” he said. “If you go in to it thinking that it’s better than it is, you’re going to be greatly disappointed. If you go in thinking that it’s a way to manage your connections and share your infrastructure in a way that you didn’t have before, you’re going to be doing back flips.”