HP’s Blades Power Play

PALO ALTO, CALIF. — Yesterday Sun Microsystems declared it was ready to enter the blades war. But today HP made its own bombshell announcement here at company headquarters.

The HP BladeSystem c-Class line of blade servers, slated to ship next month, adds a host of new features, energy savings and improved manageability as the successor to the computer giant’s current p-Class blade server line. Up to 16 seperate servers or storage devices can fit in BladeSystem c-Class systems. Pricing will be announced next month. HP said it will continue to sell the p-Class through 2007 and offer service and support through 2012.

The first c-Class blade servers will be powered by Intel’s latest dual-core Xeon processors. Later this year, HP will offer blade servers based on the next version, as yet unavailable, of AMD’s Opteron processor. HP also plans to offer a bladed version of Intel’s long-awaited dual-core “Montecito” Itanium processor this fall.

Flexing its considerable R&D resources, HP said it leveraged technology from its printer division all the way up to its high-end NonStop servers. “I just love this product,” gushed Ann Livermore, executive vice president of HP’s technology solutions group. “We leapfrog IBM on every single dimension. And we know how to play and win with low cost industry standard components.”

Livermore said HP plans to move all its servers over the next several years to the blade form factor, which can simplify management, space and cabling issues versus traditional servers.

HP said an average enterprise data center could realize system acquisition costs savings of 41 percent over a three year period and data center facilities costs of up to 60 percent. Setup time has been greatly reduced thanks an idea borrowed from HP’s printer group. HP’s added a 2-inch square interactive LCD indicator that warns of any problems and can be used to set up the blade systems. HP claims a new blade could be configured in as little as three clicks.

Housed in a mere 17-inch high cabinet, the c-Class is a key part of what HP calls its adaptive enterprise solution. Coupled with HP’s Insight Manager software, the company said the new blade systems offers better server management, virtualization and uses up to 30 percent less power than rack mount servers.

Kevin Donnellan, director of enterprise infrastructure services for the Hollywood’s Screen Actor’s Guild, plans to migrate to HP’s c-Class. The organization has 90 of HP’s p-Class Blades spread across two data centers that hold about 15 terabytes of data.

“We originally had a hodgepodge of servers but we standardized on HP blades three years ago which use a more homogeneous environment and great horizontal scaling,” Donnellan told internetnews.com. He said the Guild saved between 20 to 30 percent in cost versus using rack mount servers. “We’ve had many of the p-Class blades for three years so as we move to replace those, the c-Class looks like a great deal.”

IBM leads HP slightly in blade server market share (according to IDC, about 40 to 36 percent respectively worldwide) and Livermore said IBM is its main competitor. “It’s really a two horse race, we don’t see the other environments very often.

“You will undoubtedly hear a lot of news from our competitors because they’re scared,” Livermore added.

Scared or not, IBM was quick to fire off a few bullet point refutations of some of HP’s claims. Specifically, HP said it’s new “Virtual Connect” feature will be an industry first. Virtual Connect gives server administrators the ability to manage resources on the fly via virtualized Ethernet and Fibre Channel connections without rewiring. IBM said in a statement emailed to internetnews.com that its BladeCenter H system has offered I/O virtualization since February.

HP also is incorporating its new patented “Active Cool Fan” technology that monitors and adjusts airflow to changing conditions so less power is wasted. IBM said its servers can also adjust fan speeds depending on server load and temperature condition. HP said its technology offers more control and uses less power.

“We make every gram of airflow count,” said Wade Vinson, of HP’s “Cool Team” of engineers that developed the technology.

Sun will “absolutely be competitive” when it releases its own new blade architecture later this summer, Michael McNerney, director of Sun’s blades marketing systems group told internetnews.com. “This is HP’s third blade architecture in five years. That validates our decision to sit out the second generation while the technology evolved. The jury is out on how long HP’s latest generation is going to last.”

But HP certainly plans to extend this new offering far and wide. Later this year, it will come out with a Linux version of its Insight Manager software to entice Linux-oriented IT shops to purchase the BladeSystem c-Class.

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