Compaq Unleashes Server Blades

By Thor Olavsrud (Send Email)
Posted Jan 28, 2002


NEW YORK -- Compaq Computer Corp. began an aggressive push into the data center with the launch of its ProLiant BL e-Class server blade, code-named QuickBlade, in a reception at New York City's Essex House Hotel Monday. The blade showcases the company's "Adaptive Infrastructure" strategy, which aims to turn server blades into "virtual data centers that are flexible, pervasive, cost-effective and universally manageable."

With Compaq's new offering, enterprises can pack up to 280 servers into a standard 42U rack with hot-swappable fans and power sources. Up to 20 blades can fit in a 3U rack, and those 20 blades only require 7 cables as opposed to the 80 now required. UPDATE: The manufacturer is touting the modular architecture of its new ProLiant BL e-Class server blades.

"It's going to be as easy to swap out a server as it is to change a light bulb," said Mary McDowell, senior vice president and general manager of the Compaq Industry Standard Server Group.

The ProLiant BL e-Class modular architecture consists of:

  • Ultra-dense power/performance server blades, the ProLiant BL10e, which consists of a single Intel Ultra-Low Voltage Pentium III processor, up to 1 GB of ECC memory, 30GB of disk storage, and two 10/100 Ethernet connections
  • Enterprise class blade enclosure -- a 3U chassis that supports redundant, hot-plug power and cooling, network connections and intelligent embedded technology for managing both Microsoft Windows 2000 and Linux operating systems within the same enclosure; an Integrated Administrator module gives customers virtual presence and control capability of the enclosure and individual blades
  • A range of interconnect options, providing a choice of network connectivity and cable reduction.

At the launch, Compaq demonstrated the ability to automate system provisioning and dynamically scale resources. Compaq showed-off its blades' rip-and-replace capabilities and the automated personality migration feature which allows for multiple server deployment and dynamic scale-out.

Those capabilities are powered by Compaq's ProLiant Essentials Value Packs, offerings which Yankee Group Senior Analyst Jamie Gruener said gives Compaq a leg-up on the competition. Gruener said that the value proposition of blades is that they offer a significant magnitude of new density. However, at the same time, blades mean customers will need to manage a significantly larger number of servers in a single rack, making management tools essential.

"One thing that I felt was really interesting about what they've done is that they've actually done a series of services packs that help them provision and manage," Gruener said. The blade market sees the need for much more robust management tools. Compaq has really identified that as a key variable in the growth of that market. It looks like they've definitely got some very interesting management capabilities at the blade level."

Still, Compaq will have to capitalize on that advantage early.

"There really is a need for a provisioning software that allows you to set up the blades quickly," Gruener said. They're really trying to automate the resource deployment model. They will see some quite ruthless competition from companies such as HP, IBM and Dell in this market, and one of the keys will be how these companies do rapid deployment."

The first pack, the Integrated Lights-Out Advanced Pack, is a software upgrade option -- with free future upgrades to Virtual CD capabilities -- for the Integrated Lights-Out management processor, which enables a more advanced feature suit such as Virtual Graphical Console and Virtual Floppy capabilities. The Integrated Lights-Out Standard functionality is already provided with the ProLiant DL360 server through an embedded ASIC on the motherboard.

The second pack is the Rapid Deployment Pack, which is available for ProLiant ML, DL and BL servers. Developed in conjunction with Altiris Inc., the Rapid Deployment Pack allows for hands-free deployment and provisioning of the entire ProLiant server line. It combines Altiris' server deployment and provisioning technology with Compaq's SmartStart Scripting Toolkit technology. The pack automates deployment, system software maintenance and provisioning, allowing complete configuration -- including preparing a drive and installing the server operating system -- all from a central console through a drag-and-drop process. Compaq showed how the pack allows customers to remove, reinsert and deploy servers automatically with little or no downtime. Additionally, Compaq said that by using role-based server policies, servers can be replaced and automatically redeployed with the same administrator-defined role as the previous server -- all within minutes.

The last pack is the Workload Management Pack, which provides a software option for dynamic resource scaling, allowing customers to deploy multiple applications on 4- and 8-processor ProLiant servers.

"We love this stuff," said Jim Pilgrim, director of product management at Digex, which engages in Compaq's early adopter program. "This is the way we're going to be doing business in the future."

Paul Santeler, vice president of management, networking and high availability for the Compaq Industry Standard Server Group, noted, "We really thought through what the customer is looking for. Before, infrastructure was driving the business. They wanted business to drive the infrastructure. What we've done is put the control back in the hands of the IT groups."

Compaq stressed that the new offering really focuses on keeping applications up and running.

"We're really moving away from just the hardware aspects of fault resilience," said Lee Johns, director of Software Marketing. "It's about keeping the application up and running. It doesn't really matter whether you're healing that server or routing around it."

He added that other server blade offerings have focused on either density, performance or power utilization.

"We really think you need to balance all three," Johns said.

Additionally, with the ProLiant BL e-Class blades won't need to set aside one of the blades in the rack for management tools because they are embedded in the enclosure.

"You're not burning a blade just for management," Johns said.

While Gruener said Compaq has achieved an edge in the largely nascent blade market through its strongly integrated management tools, it hasn't sewn up the market by a long shot. Gruener said the Yankee Group expects the blade market to really take off extensively in 2004. In the meantime, he said that almost every single vendor at the hardware level is set to offer some sort of blade architecture in the next two to three quarters or in 2003.

"Compaq right now is very much going after the early adopter market with what it's offering now," Gruener said. "It's a good opportunity to go after its existing install base and get into new markets."

But Compaq also faces a serious challenge in light of the cloud of uncertainty that hovers over its proposed merger with Hewlett-Packard Co. .

"To a certain extent, customers need to evaluate them against Dell and IBM," Gruener said. "Until we get to the point where we know what the longer term viability of Compaq and HP is, it's a question."

Meanwhile, HP has already launched its first product in the blade market and as focused on building a partnership model -- the HP Developers Solution Partner Portal -- to deliver its products. Gruener said Compaq is likely to offer a similar program. Still, the wildcards remain Dell and IBM , which Gruener said have yet to clearly articulate their plans.

Compaq said a single ProLiant BL 10e starts at $1,799, and 10 packs of blades start at $17,091. Compaq Global Services offering for the ProLiant BL e-Class starts at $49 for a warranty upgrade and ranges to custom quoted lifecycle services and support options.

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