Compaq Introduces Blade Servers, Scaling Software

While blade servers have been positioned as a means to cram many servers into a small space, Compaq Computer Corp.’s introduction of its blade line came with a twist Monday. With the addition of management software, Compaq hinted at a future of Intel servers as a dynamic resource.

While RLX Technologies, Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. both introduced bladed designs that can cram multiple servers into a small space last year, Compaq’s blade design is accompanied by new software products that improve the flexibility of the Intel machines. Its Workload Management Pack enables administrators to cluster blades into larger partitions, and dedicate resources to important applications.

“Compaq is setting up the concept of the adaptive infrastructure,” says Brad Day, vice president of computing infrastructure at the Giga Information Group. He compares Compaq’s vision of adaptive infrastructure to Sun Microsystems Inc.’s uniboard server designs which use standard, hot-swap-able processor and memory units to create modular servers.

Ultimately, Compaq’s blade design will constitute a similarly modular server, rather than several low-end servers aggregated in a single box, Day believes. “There’s a big leap in terms in terms of the technologies we have to offer,” says Lee Johns, director of software at Compaq.

Today, however, Compaq focuses its first bladed server, the Proliant BL e-class on edge-of-network applications, such as serving static Web content. In addition to the cost savings a dense server brings, Johns believes Compaq’s software will make the e-class servers an attractive consolidation option.

Compaq introduced a software package with the servers, the Rapid Deployment Pack, that enables administrators to set up a large number of blades remotely through a drag-and-drop interface. Johns believes the software reduces the complexity of managing discrete Intel machines, and says a rack of 280 servers can be configured in under half-an-hour using the software.

Sally Stevens, Compaq’s director of marketing for density-optimized servers, says physically managing the hardware will also be easier. Since the servers are based on a standardized blade unit, personnel who service blades, can simply look at the LEDs to determine which blade is down. “Its as easy as changing a light bulb,” she says.

In addition, Compaq will integrate its Remote Insight Lights-Out edition hardware into all of its new servers. The software enables administrators to manage hardware through a graphical browser, and even boot from a floppy on a remote machine.

Day agrees that Compaq’s software is a key differentiator between Compaq’s blade servers and models from RLX and HP. “Insight Manager is the de facto standard for Windows server management,” he says. Because its unlikely Compaq will allow other server vendors to OEM the software, enterprises will be drawn to Compaq’s server for the management software.

Each blade in Compaq’s Proliant BL e-class uses a 700MHz low-voltage Pentium III, supports up to 1GB of memory, and sports a 30GB hard drive. The 3U chassis can hold up to 20 server blades, plus a management unit.

Stevens says Compaq plans to announce a 2-way version of the Proliant BL in the second quarter of this year. Dubbed the p-class, it will be targeted at more robust Web-serving and some applications. Later this year, Compaq hopes to launch a 4-way version.

With the introduction of 4-way blade, Compaq will begin to realize its vision of the adaptive infrastructure, according to Day. The more powerful servers will be better able to accomplish the kinds of dynamic resource scaling mainframe and Unix systems are capable of.

“What Compaq has done is try to apply the same logic that Unisys has done on its high-end product,” Day says. Unisys’ ES7000 32-way server supports partitions as small as 4-way, allowing enterprises to dedicate parts of the server to specific tasks. Day points out that for the time being Compaq’s product is aimed at the edge-of-network and middle-tier, while Unisys’ product is focused on the back end.

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