Server Snapshots: Egenera BladeFrame EX

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Sep 7, 2007


The BladeFrame EX from Egenera (Marlboro, Mass.), is a standard rack-sized chassis for Egenera Processing Blades, Control Blades and Switch Blades. It also contains the built-in Egenera BladePlane EX, which provides physical connectivity for Processing Blade I/O, network communication and power distribution. Each Processing Blade contains only processors and memory, and requires no external connections, making it possible to deliver up to four server processors in a 1U form factor.

Egenera BladeFrame EX virtualizes network and storage in a blade form factor that fits in a standard, rack-sized chassis. Can this high-end offering walk the fine line between mature and cutting-edge?

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The system consists of a chassis containing up to 24 Processing Blades. In total, BladeFrame EX can consolidate up to 192 processors running Linux, Microsoft Windows or Sun Solaris.

"From a hardware perspective, Egenera is one of a number of vendors offering a high-density computing solution that is fully integrated into the rack — that is the EX proposition," said John Enck, an analyst at Gartner (Stamford, Conn.). "This level of integration allows for greater flexibility to balance power, cooling and density; in effect, the vendor has complete control of the rack ecosystem."

Look, No Disks

As the BladeFrame virtualizes the network and storage, all disk storage is external using either SAN or NAS. The blade server is certified with products from multiple disk array providers, such as EMC (Hopkinton, Mass.), Network Appliance (Sunnyvale, Calif.) and 3PAR (Fremont, Calf.).

During the past year, Egenera introduced a steady stream of new processing blades. They largely align with the latest processors from Intel (Santa Clara, Calif.) and AMD (Sunnyvale, Calif.).

This month, for example, the company added Intel-based quad-core 4-socket blades to its lineup. Due to the chip's architecture, it can support up to 96GB of memory on that blade, while also supporting the fastest processor in this family from Intel (2.93GHz) — all in a 1U form factor (like every blade Egenera has ever offered). This separates the company from rivals that typically use double-width blades in place of those with four sockets and can't support that amount of memory.

"We do not believe that either IBM or HP will be releasing anything this high end due to power limitations on their blade chassis or memory slot constraints," said Susan Davis, a vice president at Egenera. "We have over 200 customers, with our largest markets being financial services, service providers (xSP, SaaS vendors, managed hosting), public sector and healthcare. This totals over 200 customers, including companies such as Savvis Communications, Credit Suisse, Commercebank, Daiwa Securities, Pioneer Investments, and Bank of Tokyo — Mitsubishi UFG, many branches of the U.S. Federal Government (including both DoD and civilian agencies), Emory Healthcare and Cambridge Health Alliance."

Clearly, then, Egenera's products do not compete with the likes of Dell's (Round Rock, Texas) 1U blades. As the BladeFrame was designed to support business- and mission-critical applications, Davis said it most often comes up against Unix systems.

"Our primary competition is HP and IBM, so we do also compete with their blade systems, as their latest iterations have become a bit more robust than the previous generations," said Davis. "In order to provide some of the same features that the BladeFrame does these vendors have to add in redundant switching, I/O virtualization, and software for failover clustering, virtual machine management and other provisioning and management tools. None have anything close to the integrated N+1 disaster recovery capability the BladeFrame provides though, so it is often hard to do an apples-to-apples comparison in terms of functionality."

Egenera PAN Manager software, for example, virtualizes 80 percent of the I/O devices on a legacy server into software, including network and storage switch ports, network interface cards, host bus adapters and cables. vBlade software, a PAN Manager option, creates partitions within a Processing Blade that are defined by CPU and memory resources. Today, most of Egenera's R&D investment is in PAN Manager software, which is key to its concept of data center virtualization (i.e., virtualizing the infrastructure beyond the server).

"Our customers tell us we are many years ahead of the competition in this regard," said Davis. "We created the architectural blueprint for next-generation computing seven years ago when we started — as one of the first blade vendors, and the first to virtualize I/O in order to create pools of processing, storage and networking."

The company was also among the first to provide capabilities to automatically provision virtual servers, re-purpose them and provide automatic failover. It also integrated disaster recovery and chargeback capabilities along with the ability to manage multiple systems as one pool of resources, which it calls BladeFarms.

Pricing for the individual processing blades in BladeFrame EX varies from less than $6,000 at the low end to more than $40,000 for a top-of-the-line system. A complete rack-sized system ranges from around $150,000 to $750,000. Note, too, that entry-level BladeFrame ES systems are also available and priced much lower.

"Overall, Egenera continues to serve a niche (but perfectly viable) market here in North America, and its partnership with Fujitsu has allowed it to expand its presence into Europe," said Enck. "However, Egenera technology continues to be challenged by the mainstream server vendors (HP, Dell, and IBM) who continue to pour investment into their blade products. In that same light, Egenera is challenged by the desire of corporate buyers who want to consolidate to a small number of vendors and are willing to purchase 'good enough' products to eliminate a vendor supplying only a narrow category of solutions."

The Egenera BladeFrame EX Close Up

Name BladeFrame EX A frontal view of the Blade Frame EX
Source: Egenera
Vendor Egenera
Platform x86
Dimensions 82" x 24" x 30"; 1,000 lbs
Processor Details Up to 24 processing blades per BladeFrame chassis.
4-Processor Dual-Core Models
Dual-Core AMD Opteron processor Model 8220SE 2.80 GHz, 16 or 32 GB DDR-2 memory; Dual-Core AMD Opteron processor Model 8216 2.40 GHz, 8 or 16 or 32 GB DDR-2 memory; Dual-Core Intel Xeon processor 2.66 GHz, 2x2MB L2 cache, 32 GB ECC DDR-2 Chipkill memory; Intel Xeon processor MP 3.66 GHz with Intel EM64T, 1M L2 cache, 8 GB ECC DDR-2 Chipkill memory
2-Processor Models
Dual-Core AMD Opteron processor Model 2220SE 2.80 GHz, 16 GB DDR-2 memory; Dual-Core AMD Opteron processor Model 2216 2.40 GHz, 4 GB DDR-2 memory; Intel Xeon processor Model 5140 2.33 GHz, 4 GB memory; Intel Xeon processor Model 5160 3 GHz, 4 or 8 or 16 GB memory
Hard Drives None, all storage is external
Operating Systems Linux, Microsoft Windows or Sun Solaris
Configuration Options At least 15 configurations available: 2-socket dual-core blade with 4GB RAM for priced under $6,000; high-end, quad-core 4-socket blade with 96GB RAM priced around $40,000
Availability Now available
Warranty One year

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