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Non-x86 Blade Server Buyer's Guide

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Jun 17, 2010


When it comes to blades, there is a plethora of x86 options. In contrast, on the non-x86 side there are far fewer choices. Dell and Fujitsu don't offer any at all, for example. A range of possibilities remains, however.

HP's Non-x86 Blades

When it comes to blade servers, x86 is the most frequent architecture of choice. Bladed or not, however, x86 servers are not the perfect tool for every task. Non-x86 blade server options, while limited, fill many of the gaps that their x86 siblings leave.

HP (NYSE:HPQ) has three servers to offer on its Integrity platform using the Intel Itanium 9100 series processor. The Integrity BL860c has up to 48 GB of memory. Pricing starts at $3,847. This two-socket, full-height blade server is designed to support mission-critical application demands for HP-UX and OpenVMS operating environments, in addition to Linux and Windows.

The Integrity BL870c is a four-socket blade that uses the high-performance HP zx2 chip set. It has up to 192 GB of memory and a starting price of $8,000.

"The HP Integrity BL860c and BL870c server blades can coexist with ProLiant server blades and StorageWorks storage blades within the HP BladeSystem c-Class enclosure," said Michael McNerney, server planning and marketing director, HP Business Critical Systems. "The BL870c is ideal for server or database consolidation, very large database applications, ERP, CRM, diverse workload application and business integration applications."

Integrity systems include features and capabilities, such as:

Virtual Server Environment (VSE) software creates virtual servers that can automatically grow and shrink based on service-level objectives set for each application they host to improve server utilization in real-time. This shrinks the time involved in data center management.

Serviceguard software delivers high availability and disaster recovery over long distances in physical and virtual environments.

Cache Safe Technology delivers mainframe-like availability by eliminating most cache errors. This means a single hardware malfunction in the blade compute environment should not affect the user's ability to continue using the service.

Double chip sparing technology represents a three-timesimprovement in isolating memory errors over chip kill implementations.

"With Integrity blades, users can have fewer blade servers while efficiently delivering the same mission-critical workloads," said McNerney. "This lowers the cost of operations and enables a smaller energy and space footprint."

He points out that the enclosure is a key factor in any blade purchase. While blades may be inexpensive, total costs must include the enclosure. The HP BladeSystem TCO Analysis tool is suggested as a way to gauge the costs of Integrity blades with HP BladeSystem c-Class Enclosures.

At the top of the line is the NB50000c NonStop Blade System

The HP Integrity NonStop NB50000c BladeSystem combines fault-tolerance with the NonStop operating system, which copes with the most transaction-intensive applications. It can be configured with two to 16 processors per node and up to 768 GB 48 GB per processor). This one, though, comes with a much heftier price tag -- $340,000 for a 2-processor NonStop BladeSystem.

"NonStop blades are used in data centers needing 24/7 fault-tolerant availability and data integrity, and lower per-transaction cost for businesses with very high transaction volumes, such as finance, healthcare, and telecommunications," said McNerney.

The NonStop NB50000c scales from 2 to more than 4,080 CPUs (up to 8,160 cores). As a result, it is deployed globally in organizations running stock exchanges, retail payment (credit card and ATM), network applications (mobile operators), 911/public safety and electronic patient records.

Other Non-x86 Blades

While you might expect IBM (NYSE:IBM) to offer plenty of blade servers using its own Power processors, those numbers are swamped by its x86-based System x blade server offerings. Apart from a few older models using Power6, IBM offers the BladeCenter based only on the POWER7 processor. These servers use a 3.0 GHz 64-bit POWER7 processor and are available in four-core, eight-core and 16-core configuration. They are optimized to achieve maximum performance for both the system and its virtual machines. Pricing starts around $7,088.

Oracle, meanwhile continues to offer a couple of blades that don't use Intel or AMD chips. The Sun Blade T6340 Server Module is a two-socket six- or eight-core model that uses the UltraSPARC T2 Plus processor. It is capable of up to 128 simultaneous threads and up to 256 GB of memory. It runs the Solaris 10 OS. The Sun Blade T6320 Server Module is the single-socket version and comes in four- or eight-core flavors with up to 128 GB of RAM.

Apples to Bananas

So which of these servers are best? Unfortunately, an apples-to-apples comparison is impossible given that they each use distinctly different processors and architectures. Selection is often dictated by application, operating system and environment.

Clearly, though, non-x86 blades have a role to play in the data center.

Jed Scaramella, an analyst at IDC, said that blade server deployments are largely focused on the data center. Very few users deploy them in server rooms or server closets. Organizations that have significant UNIX deployments or older OpenVMS and other systems, such as NonStop in operation, then, will gravitate toward blades designed for these systems.

Expect high-end blades, such as those above from Oracle, HP and IBM to continue to hold their own against x86 servers.

"High-end blades are appropriate for organizations with critical applications and complex workloads that require system capacity to be increased (or decreased) as the business needs change," said McNerney.

Non-x86 Blade Server Choices at a Glance

Name HP Integrity Systems IBM BladeCenter PS700 Series Sun Blades
Description Intel Itanium -based blade servers Power7 -based blade servers UltraSPARC processor-based servers
Servers HP Integrity
HP Integrity BL860c
HP Integrity BL870c
HP Integrity NonStop NB50000c BladeSystem
IBM BladeCenter
IBM BladeCenter PS700 Express
IBM BladeCenter PS701 Express
IBM BladeCenter PS702 Express
Sun Blade
Sun Blade T6340 Server Module
Sun Blade T6320 Server Module

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

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