Hardware Today: Blades Deliver Software as a Service

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Sep 5, 2006


Software as a service (SaaS), also known as software on-demand, has been gathering steam for several years now. As opposed to acquiring a license to use software perpetually, SaaS enables applications to be accessed via a Web browser, typically on a subscription basis.

When OpSource moved from managed hosting to software as a service, it also moved to HP ProLiant BL25 and BL35 blades.

Anti-virus and collaboration vendors, is one segment that has been quick to adopt this model. Even Microsoft is heading that way — its Microsoft Office Live service (currently in Beta) will provide access to Microsoft Office, e-mail accounts and Web sites for small businesses for $30 per month.

Riding this trend is OpSource of Santa Clara, Calif., which decided to transition from managed hosting to SaaS about two years ago. To ensure optimum service delivery, it selected HP's BL25 and BL35 blades. Currently, it has around 1,200 blades operating in its various centers.

"When we noticed the emergence of the SaaS mega-trend, we sat down and worked out what we needed to create a unified hardware, software and services platform," says Mitch Cipriano, vice president of marketing at OpSource. "We found the BL25 and BL35 blades to be the best for our purposes, and we now use HP as our exclusive blade provider."

With SaaS, customers can avoid resource-intensive deployment cycles, eliminate hardware acquisition costs and slash upfront expenses by moving to a "pay as you go" model. Software companies often outsource software delivery to companies, such as OpSource, to reduce their management burden. Start-ups and smaller vendors, in particular, use OpSource to compete with the big boys on an even SaaS playing field. In total, OpSource provides services to around 80 clients.

The company operates a primary data center in Virginia, another in Denver and a few smaller ones around the country. When customers browse vendor pages and decide to buy software on demand, they click through to the OpSource site.

"We range from start ups in one- and two-server environments up to giants like BMC and Business Objects," says Cipriano. "The big guys use us, as they are not service delivery experts and they'd rather stick to their core areas of expertise."

Blade Selection

Cipriano states that the selection process included HP, IBM, Dell and others. Several criteria were considered, including management software, power consumption, power efficiency, price and the data center footprint. Management capability was a key consideration because of OpSource's patent-pending OptiTech Services Engine, which supports rapid integration and deployment of SaaS offerings. Any blade set up had to integrate well with OptiTech to facilitate service ticketing, Web hosting and the many others services functions involved.

In addition to integration, another factor given attention was how many blades the small staff could manage.

"We only have 80 people in operations and about 60 percent are directly involved in managing or deploying blades," says Cipriano. "When we looked at the various blade management packages, HP Insight Manager came out at the top of the list."

Power consumption also played a role in the selection process — but not quite as much as it does today. When OpSource began this search two years ago, it realized power consumption would rapidly become a primary factor in server and blade purchasing decisions. Cipriano's evaluation team felt HP had a better understanding of where the pain points in the data center were going, especially with regard to power.

"We needed very low power to keep our costs down," says Cipriano. "These Opteron blades proved to be head and shoulders above Dell-based Intel Xeon blades when it came to power consumption."

He notes that HP blades also scored best on power efficiency, overall blade architecture, and cost of ownership, acquisition and maintenance. Rather than just pondering benchmark numbers, though, OpSource brought in gear from vendors to test it internally. This was done to see how it functioned as a whole, as well as to gain insight into how easily it would integrate with the OptiTech Services Engine.

Finally, the company calculated how many blades could be placed into the space available. Part of this equation included how much power and heat would be consumed. Once again, HP scored highest.

"The HP BL blades could be stacked more densely and had a lower overall cost of ownership," says Cipriano. "We conducted this evaluation two years ago and again last year. Each time HP came first as it seems to have a better understanding of where the data center is going."

HP Blades

OpSource uses HP BL25 and BL35 blades. Out of the 1,200 or so models on its data center floors, about 60 percent are BL35, and 40 percent are BL25. Almost all use dual-core technology. The company has a handful of HP DL servers, too.

The ProLiant BL25 is a dual-processor Opteron-based server blade. The processor is an Opteron 200 Series Model 285 (2.6GHz), with 1MB of L2 cache per core. Up to 96 processors (192 cores) can be placed into a 42U rack.

"The BL25 has more space for add-in cards and peripherals," says Cipriano. "It also has disk drives with around twice the space as those in the BL35."

The ProLiant BL35, on the other hand, is a 2-way server blade with a denser footprint and lower power consumption. It shares the same p-Class chassis as the BL25. It uses dual-core Opteron processor Model 280 (2.4GHz) with 1MB L2 cache per core.

"The BL35 has a smaller form factor with less room for memory expansion," says Cipriano. "The specs for each customer can be quite different, however, due to their very different needs."

Some organizations, for example, want the least-expensive possible solution. That can mean 1.8 GHz processors and 1GB memory. Others might prefer 2.6 GHz chips with 32 GB RAM, he says.

New Chassis

In terms of future direction, Cipriano is positive about the role of the very latest HP c-Class chassis. He has begun deploying blades using this chassis. Initial tests, he says, are favorable.

"c-Class is a whole new platform which is not interchangeable with the old HP platform so it is not a quick switch out," he says. "But the pre-configuration features and new enclosure make it easier to install the blades and fit them into the network infrastructure."

Accordingly, the OpSource game plan is to add c-Class racks gradually. As new customers come aboard or established clients request more service, they will be offered this technology as one option. Depending on requirements and budgets, customers will either elect the newest blade platform or stick with p-Class equipment.

"Our customers are not that concerned about what technologies we use to get anything done," says Cipriano. "They just want to know they can depend on us to deliver their software to their customers in a cost-effective manner."

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