Compaq Introduces Blade Servers, Scaling Software

Blade servers havebeen positioned as a means to cram many servers into a small space, but CompaqComputer Corp.’s introduction of its blade line came with atwist yesterday. With the addition of management software, Compaq hinted at afuture of Intel servers as a dynamic resource.

While RLXTechnologies, Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co.both introduced bladed designs that can cram multiple servers into a smallspace last year; new software products that improve the flexibility of theIntel machines accompany Compaq’s blade design. Its Workload Management Packenables administrators to cluster blades into larger partitions, and dedicateresources to important applications.

“Compaq is settingup the concept of the adaptive infrastructure,” says Brad Day, vice presidentof computing infrastructure at the Giga Information Group.He compares Compaq’s vision of adaptive infrastructure to SunMicrosystems Inc.’s uniboard server designs that use standard,hot-swappable processor and memory units to create modular servers.

Ultimately, Compaq’sblade design will constitute a similarly modular server, rather than severallow-end servers aggregated in a single box, Day believes. “There’s a big leapin 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, onedge-of-network applications, such as serving static Web content. In additionto the cost savings a dense server brings, Johns believes Compaq’s softwarewill make the e-class servers an attractive consolidation option.

Compaq introduceda software package with the servers, the Rapid Deployment Pack, that enablesadministrators to set up a large number of blades remotely through adrag-and-drop interface. Johns believes the software reduces the complexity ofmanaging discrete Intel machines, and says a rack of 280 servers can beconfigured in under half-an-hour using the software.

Sally Stevens,Compaq’s director of marketing for density-optimized servers, says physicallymanaging the hardware will also be easier. Since the servers are based on astandardized blade unit, personnel who service blades can simply look at theLEDs to determine which blade is down and slide in a new unit. “Its as easy aschanging a light bulb,” she says.

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

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

Each blade inCompaq’s Proliant BL e-class uses a 700MHz low-voltage Pentium III, supports upto 1GB of memory, and sports a 30GB hard drive. The 3U chassis can hold up to20 server blades, plus a management unit.

Stevens saysCompaq plans to announce a 2-way version of the Proliant BL in the secondquarter of this year. Dubbed the p-class, it will be targeted at more robustWeb-serving and some applications. Later this year, Compaq hopes to launch a4-way version.

With theintroduction of 4-way blade, Compaq will begin to realize its vision of theadaptive infrastructure, according to Day. The more powerful servers will bebetter able to accomplish the kinds of dynamic resource scaling mainframe andUnix systems are capable of.

“What Compaq hasdone is try to apply the same logic that Unisys has done on its high-endproduct,” Day says. Unisys Corp.’s ES7000 32-wayserver supports partitions as small as 4-way, allowing enterprises to dedicateparts of the server to specific tasks. Day points out, 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. ChrisMcConnell