Today, Hewlett-Packard Co. introduced a new four-socket Itanium-based Integrity blade server. But for more memory-intensive workloads, users may still benefit from staying with the traditional rack-'em-and-stack-'em approach.
The new BL870c blade can have up to four dual-core Itanium processors and 96 GB of memory and starts at about $8,000. With that memory capacity, it exceeds IBM Power-based blades and Sun Microsystems Sparc-based blades, although it is about twice as large as the Sparc blades and more than three times larger than Power blades.
"This is a unique blade in the market," said Forrester Research Inc. analyst James Staten. "Large SMP [symmetric multiprocessing] applications can fit into blades now. ERPs [enterprise resource planning systems], CRMs [customer relationship management systems], data warehouses, and enterprise-size databases. You could not put those on a blade before without putting it on a grid engine, which most customers weren't comfortable with."
Still, the 96 GB memory ceiling is low compared with the rack-equivalent four-socket Integrity, which can accommodate twice as much memory.
"That will probably dictate some of the usage," said IDC analyst Jed Scaramella. "If someone needs to completely max out on their memory, they probably won't go with the blade. But 96 GB is actually a lot more than your typical blade."
Both Scaramella and Staten said that RISC/EPIC blades have been slow to catch on, and the Integrity blade is no exception. Scaramella estimated that HP has sold fewer than 1,000 units of the BL870c's predecessor, the BL860c, which came out last February. But as the vendors begin to pack more and more processing and memory capacity into the small-form factor of a blade server, users may start to make the leap.
According to Staten, there tends to be a two-step education process to convince users to move more mission-critical, compute- and memory-intensive workloads over to blades. First, he said, "you have to convince them that blades are a good thing for their system when they've been told pedestal and rack forever."
The next step is convincing users that blade server management is as easy as rack or tower server management. In fact, it may be easier.
"The biggest thing with blades is the ability to move workloads from one blade to another within the chassis and across chasses with a single software command," he said. "You can do that within an Integrity rack system, but you can't do it across one Integrity system to another."
The new blades have begun shipping, said Lorraine Bartlett, the director of server marketing for business-critical systems at HP. While Intel is expected to release a quad-core Itanium chip by the end of this year, Bartlett said she doesn't expect users to wait if they need new Integrity servers now. For the most part, Scaramella and Staten agreed.
"You may see a slower ramp, but I don't think so," Scaramella said.
"The reason you don't wait is if you have immediate needs now," Staten said. "But if you can afford to wait -- if you're not in trouble capacity-wise and not bringing new applications on until 2009 -- you might as well wait."