Big Blue Number Two
IBM holds the No. 2 spot in blades with 28.4 percent revenue share, per IDC. IBM is gaining ground with revenue growth of 64.1 percent, and gaining 5.7 points of blade market share in the last quarter of 2009. Big Blue has almost as many x86 blades for sale as HP. Again, these are both Intel and AMD-based blades, as well as one, two or four-socket flavors.
- BladeCenter HS12
- BladeCenter HX5
- BladeCenter HS22V
- BladeCenter HS22
- BladeCenter LS42
- BladeCenter LS22
Surprise, surprise, the IBM BladeCenter HS12 is actually less expensive than HP’s lower-end BL280c with a base price of $929. But when you go to configure it at the IBM web site, it’s hard to get the price down below $1,291. That’s for a system with a dual-core Intel Core 2 Duo processor (1.86GHz), 4 GB memory and no hard drives. The more memory than the HP machine but a less robust processor. If you want to change to a quad-core Xeon X3323 in the HS12, add another $479 to the price tag.
Making a try at an apples-to-apples comparison, the BladeCenter HS22 has the Xeon 5600 and 5500 processors (like the HP BL280c). A blade with roughly the same specs as the basic HP model came up at $2,284. This may be due to better warranty terms with IBM or simply that it is a more expensive server –- the devil obviously is in the details. So don’t rush into shopping decisions without seeing what the machines will cost in your environment, including warranty, interconnects and chassis. The IBM site also doesn’t help, as it lists dozens of configurations for the HS22, from around $2,200 up to $5,000. According to Bob Zubor, a manager for IBM System x servers, the starting price of the HS22 is $1,479. (However, if anyone can actually get the IBM configuration engine to spit out that price, send me the link for the server.)
The LS42 competes in a similar space with the HP BL685c –- at the higher end. It has two Opteron Model 8347 processors, 4GB of memory, no hard drives and a price of $6,379.
Zubor advises prospective blade buyers to watch out for the amount of memory available in the system, as this is usually the big bottleneck, particularly with virtualized environments. In addition, he talks about I/O flexibility.
“Look for blades that offer the most memory through flexible add-on features, such as the new MAX5 memory expansion solution,” said Zubor. “Our BladeCenter chassis and blades support not only 1Gb ethernet, but [also] 10Gb ethernet, 4x Infiniband and Virtual Fabric.”
So why are IBM blade servers best? Zubor highlights their redundancy features as well as the amount of memory available via MAX5 modules that take the place of one blade yet add a lot more memory. As a result, customers have enough memory for demanding workloads, which sometimes means they can purchase blades with fewer sockets (at lower cost) without affecting performance.
“You can attach the MAX5 memory expansion to the base 2 socket HX5 blade and get a total of 40 DIMM slots in the blade, or you can attach a second base HX5 blade and scale the system up to a four-socket blade server,” said Zubor. “Another scalability option is to combine two base HX5 blades and 2 MAX5 expansions for an unprecedented four-socket/80DIMMS blade server.”
Best of the Rest
Between them, HP and IBM have already carved up 80 percent of the blade sector. Plenty of other options remain, however. Take the case of Dell with its six x86 systems:
- M605 – 2 socket AMD based blade, 8 DIMM slots, 2 hot swap hard drives
- M610 – 2 socket Intel based blade, 12 DIMM slots, 2 hot swap hard drives
- M710 – 2 socket Intel based blade, 18 DIMM slots, 4 hot swap hard drives
- M805 -2 socket AMD based blade, 16 DIMM slots, 2 hot swap hard drives
- M905 – 4 socket AMD based blade, 24 DIMM slots, 2 hot swap hard drives
- M910 – 2 socket/4 socket scalable Intel based blade, 32 DIMM slots, 2 hot swap hard drives
“The Dell M Series offers a broad range of x86 blades with a variety of form factors allowing customers to choose the I/O, processor type, memory and hard drive expandability that best fits their environment,” said Mike Roberts, product manager, Dell PowerEdge Blades.
Where Dell brings real value to the market is price. The M605 noted above, for example, costs $1,065 for a model with quad-core Opteron 2378 processors, 2 GB of memory and no hard drives. IBM and HP struggle to compete with that. When you add a second processor and double the memory, it still costs only $1,377.
Apart from price, why are Dell blades the best choice? Roberts talks about best-in-class power and cooling efficiency, lowest cost of LAN/SAN connectivity, lower opex and flexibility.
“The M910 is the only blade on the market that has the flexibility to be an ultra-high memory, I/O, core count two-socket blade that can scale (without adding expensive expansion modules) to a four-socket design with Dell’s patent-pending FlexMem Bridge technology,” said Roberts.
Fujitsu, in the meantime, also offers plenty of x86 server options in the form of its BX600 series and the BX900 series. The BX620 S6 blade start5s at $1,720 and uses Xeon 5500/5600 processors. The BX920 S2 server blade starts at $2,072 and uses the same Xeon processors.
“On a per-blade basis, there are more similarities than not between x86 blade vendors, so the selection criteria moves upward to chassis features/density and the power and cooling envelope,” said Richard McCormack, senior vice president of server and solutions business, Fujitsu America. “Both the BX600 and the BX900 offer superior power and cooling on a per-blade basis. The BX600, because it supports 10 blades in 7U size, can be an excellent choice for space-constrained customers. Both are very quiet in operation.”
Finally, Oracle continues to offer two Xeon-based blades (Sun Blade X6275 Server Module and Sun Blade X6270 Server Module), and two Opteron blades (Sun Blade X6440 Server Module and Sun Blade X6240 Server Module).
x86 Blade Server Choices at a Glance
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).