As blades become increasingly commonplace in the enterprise, vendors are refining their offerings to ensure their blades are a cut above the competition. Hitachi is setting its Xeon-based server blades apart with firmware-based virtualization technology.
The big vendors are certainly rolling out heavier duty server blades these days. In recent months, all the top vendors unveiled souped up blades in one form or another. The latest in line is Hitachi America (San Diego, Calif.), with its Hitachi BladeSymphony 1000 blade.
This product has been around for a couple of months. Currently, its firmware-based virtualizationfeatures are available only on Itanium-based models. Within the next few months, however, Hitachi will release a Xeon-based blade for the BladeSymphony 1000 line in both dual-core and quad-core form factors.
Blades are pretty much a dime a dozen these days; thus, a unique differentiator is critical to a vendor’s success. In the case of BladeSymphony, one key selling points is a built-in virtualization package Hitachi has termed Virtage.
“Hitachi entered the North American market last year with the BladeSymphony 1000 and Virtage, which introduced a compelling new functionality for bridging blade servers and virtualization,” said Tony Iams, senior analyst at Ideas International (Rye Brook, N.Y.). “Now that Virtage is available for industry-standard systems across the entire data center, Hitachi has established itself as a force to be reckoned with, in both the virtualization and the blade server markets.”
The company believes this approach brings mainframe-class virtualization to blade computing. Virtage is a hypervisor-type virtualization that leverages Intel Virtualization Technology (VT) to optimize processor performance. The technology is built into the hardware and requires no separate OS layer or third-party virtualization software. As a result, BladeSymphony 1000 doesn’t experience the performance hit sometimes associated with software-only virtualization.
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“BladeSymphony with Virtage is the first blade server product to provide users with enterprise-class data center functionality,” said Steve Campbell, vice president of marketing and solutions, Hitachi Server Systems Group. “It is a breakthrough embedded virtualization feature that builds virtualization right into a blade server’s hardware for the first time.”
In effect, Virtage partitions physical server resources with isolated logical partitions (LPARs). Each of these environments can run independently, and a different OS can run on each LPAR.
“BladeSymphony with Virtage is the only blade server product to include blade SMP interconnect technology that improves scalability by enabling users to configure multiple blades so that they work as a single system,” said Campbell. “BladeSymphony also provides up to 16 PCI slots of I/O expansion in one blade chassis.”
He explained that Hitachi initially developed this for its mainframe systems. From there, Virtage was transferred over to the BladeSymphony product line. As result, users can scale and virtualize BladeSymphony 1000 blade servers using Intel Itanium 2 processor-based blades, which support dual-core Intel Itanium 2 9000 Series processors, or dual-core and quad-core Intel Xeon processor-based blades — or both within the same chassis.
“Users may mix-and-match Xeon solutions with Intel Dual-Core Itanium 2 processor-based server modules to tackle virtually workloads such as applications, Web services and multi-threaded, mission-critical processing tasks,” said Campbell.
The new blades will be available in a variety of dual- and quad-core Xeon processors with speeds ranging from 1.66 to 3.0. Virtage itself will be supported specifically on Intel Xeon 5400 Series “Harpertown” processors. The blades can run Windows Server operating systems and Red Hat Linux.
As the BladeSymphony 1000 Xeon 5400 Series processor blades will not be released until the end of the quarter, final configurations are still being determined. However, several chassis types will be made available. The 320 chassis is a 6U form factor and will run dual-core Xeon blades. It supports up to 16GB of memory and will be available in 110V and 220V versions. The 1000 chassis, on the other hand, is a 10U version for quad-core blades. It supports up to 32GB of memory. SATA or SAS drives can be used.
“The drives that will be supported on the BladeSymphony 1000 Xeon 5400 Series processor blades are either two 3.5″ 160GB SATA drives or four 2.5″ 146GB SAS drives,” said Campbell.
He expects this new blade to compete in a variety of markets. Its flexibility in terms of Xeon or Itanium means it can span a wider zone of the market than traditional Xeon blades.
“This server competes in the Xeon space as well as the higher-end Unix competitors with our Itanium blade line-up,” said Campbell. “In the Xeon space, we target most rack server vendors as well as all vendors selling blade server technologies.”
In addition to the processor range, Hitachi believes its Virtage capability gives the product an edge in the market. By building virtualization right into a blade server’s hardware, the OEM will be providing customers with an alternative to third-party software solutions. Hitachi hopes this will result in a reduction in overhead costs while increasing manageability, reliability, security, fault isolation, transparency and performance.
To satisfy customers that prefer to virtualize with VMware products, the BladeSymphony is certified to run VMware software on its Xeon blades.
“BladeSymphony with Virtage is ideal for any company running large custom applications, particularly mission-critical applications and companies actively acquiring other organizations or running other high-growth applications,” said Campbell. “Industries such as financial services, healthcare, and high-performance computing would find the product most useful.”
When first announced, Hitachi said the Xeon flavor would arrive on the market in the first quarter of 2008. More recently, Campbell said it will not be ready until late in the quarter. The starting price for a BladeSymphony 1000 Xeon will be less than $10,000.
|10U high by 443mm wide by 852mm deep
|Dual-core and quad-core Intel Xeon processors
|Two 3.5″ 160GB SATA drives or four 2.5″ 146GB SAS drives
|Windows Server and Red Hat Linux
|320 Chassis (6U) with a single-processor Xeon dual-core blade supporting 16GB of memory, priced from $10,000
1000 Chassis (10U) with a quad-core, dual-processor blade supporting 32GB of memory
|End of first quarter 2008