HP Touts Blades Ready for Web 2.0 and Cloud Computing

Putting the cart before the horse: does cloud computing sell, and -- if so -- who's buying?

Buzzwords come and go. They are usually attached to technologies that seem to be on the cutting edge. Whether the technology ever actually makes it is another matter.

On the surface, cloud computing seems like just another buzzword. In a sense, it's a gussied-up term for grid computing, which was itself a more benign spin on old computational grids. Computational grids, as any information theorist can tell you, were more for high-performance technical computing (HPTC) than for the transaction-oriented enterprise.

Cloud computing could be different, in that it's tied to another technology -- virtualization -- and is positioned as a means to inexpensively deploy compute-intensive applications and ratchet-up utilization rates. That's why big name OEMs -- including Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), IBM Corp., and Sun Microsystems Inc., among others -- have announced cloud computing offerings or services.

The trick, of course, is to sell the cloud computing model to enterprise customers. That's what HP was trying to do last week, when it announced a series of massive scale-out IT infrastructures designed to support cloud computing applications (such as financial analytics or digital content creation) as well as Web 2.0 applications and traditional HPTC workloads.

HP announced a new ProLiant BL2x220c G5 blade system that boasts double the density of its existing BladeSystems -- i.e., 32 nodes per 10U rack. HP achieved its double-density coup by packing two dual-socket server nodes into BladeSystem's half-height blade form factor -- these revamped blades achieve a 60 percent improvement (measured on a performance-per-watt basis) over competing solutions.

Last week, HP also announced a line of Storage Works offerings (the EX DS9100 family) that are able to address the "extreme storage" requirements of Web 2.0 and cloud computing applications.

HP had still more to announce: its Factory Express service now provides system customization and integration services prior to shipping. HP's Web 2.0 and cloud computing push isn't simply a marketing ploy, officials claim. The computing giant has also created a completely new "Scalable Computing and Infrastructure" business unit tasked with developing and marketing the BL2x220c G5 and other scale-out solutions.

"Customers in Web 2.0, HPC, and emerging cloud deployments across many business segments are looking for competitive advantages that scale-out computing can provide," said HP executive vice-president Ann Livermore, in a statement. She touted HP's leadership in designing dense, efficient, and powerful x86 systems for scale-out environments. "Through innovations in server density, power efficiency, storage management and data center services, we are committed to being the company that powers scale-out infrastructures."

On the surface, HP's announcement seems similar to IBM Corp.'s iDataPlex launch in late April. Both HP's and Big Blue's moves are geared toward next-gen Web 2.0 and cloud-computing workloads, after all (see http://www.esj.com/enterprise/article.aspx?EditorialsID=3126).

It isn't a superficial resemblance, says Charles King, a principal with consultancy Pund-IT: both the IBM and HP offerings follow a trend among OEMs that -- anxious to capitalize on Web 2.0 and cloud computing hype (even in the absence of demonstrable demand) -- are marketing new Web 2.0- and cloud-ready infrastructure assets. What's to separate these new-fangled deliverables (which in many cases are rebadged versions of existing blade or rack servers) from, for example, the "digital-ready" loudspeakers that Sony and other companies introduced during the 1980's? Those products, you might recall, quickly disappeared from the marketplace once customers discovered that their existing assets worked just as well if not better. What separates Web 2.0- or cloud-ready computing solutions from their blade server kin?

In HP's case, King says, not all that much. iDataPlex, he argues, amounts to a substantive reimagining of the blade server and its surrounding infrastructure assets; HP's play, on the other hand, amounts to an intelligent evolution of existing technologies. Both approaches have their merits, King says -- and, in a sense, both are just as viable, because unlike those 1980's "digital-ready" loudspeakers, Web 2.0- and cloud-ready compute infrastructures do have unique requirements.

"Vendors develop cloud infrastructure solutions in one of two ways by … [either] developing virtually new, sometimes radically re-imagined, technologies; or … [by] tweaking existing rack or blade server products. IBM's recent iDataPlex solutions walk the former path while HP's new ProLiant BL2x220c G5 blade system follows the latter," King says. "This is not to criticize HP. The company's BladeSystem c-Class solutions have been a commercial success, and the company's doubling of compute performance with the BL2x220c G5 demonstrates the c-Class architecture's ample headroom."

In addition, King maintains, HP's "extreme storage" solutions and vaunted supply-chain capabilities will probably allow it to "hit the commercial cloud market fairly quickly." King still has some questions, however.

"HP provided ample data related to system power consumption … [but] no information was offered related to system cooling, a critical factor in determining overall system and infrastructure TCO," he points out.

"Second, the company's retention of redundant power supplies and cooling fans in the BL2x220c G5 contradicts the vast majority of cloud vendors which consider such features to be unnecessary energy hogs," King continues. "While HP trumpeted how it could use its existing Factory Express service to build/deliver the new systems, it shed little light on how its existing facilities would effectively contend with the complexities of manufacturing tens of thousands of new custom systems."

In the final analysis, he suggests, ProLiant BL2x220c G5 gives HP a viable Web 2.0- and cloud-ready blade system. "[F]or customers anxious to climb on the cloud computing bandwagon with HP, the ProLiant BL2x220c G5 blade system seems like a good place to start," he concludes.

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