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IBM announced on Sept. 27, 2010 that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire BLADE Network Technologies (BLADE), a privately held company based in Santa Clara, CA. BLADE specializes in software and devices that route data and transactions to and from servers. The acquisition is anticipated to close in the fourth quarter of 2010, subject to the satisfaction of customary closing conditions and applicable regulatory reviews. Financial terms were not disclosed.

To read the full press release, continue reading.

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I continuously find myself re-visiting the same links to find additional information regarding blade servers, so I finally came up with a revolution: why not consolidate the links and put them on my site? Introducing a new addition to my blog – the “Helpful Links” page. Located at the top of every page, the Helpful Links page is designed to be a single stop shop for the best links related to blade servers. My goal is to continue to update every page at my primary site (http://BladesMadeSimple.com), so if you have links you want to see, or if something is broken, please let me know. This is YOUR site. I built this site for you, so in the words of Jerry Maguire, “Help me, help you.” Thanks for your continued support.

Go to Helpful Links Section »

A white paper released today by Dell shows that the Dell M1000e blade chassis infrastructure offers significant power savings compared to equivalent HP and IBM blade environments. In fact, the results were audited by an outside source, the Enterprise Management Associates (http://www.enterprisemanagement.com). After the controversy with the Tolly Group report discussing HP vs Cisco, I decided to take the time to investigate these findings a bit deeper.

The Dell Technical White Paper titled, “Power Efficiency Comparison of Enterprise-Class Blade Servers and Enclosures” was written by the Dell Server Performance Analysis Team. This team is designed to run competitive comparisons for internal use, however the findings of this report were decided to be published external to Dell since the results were unexpected. The team used an industry standard SPECpower_ssj2008 benchmark to compare the power draw and performance per watt of blade solutions from Dell, HP and IBM. SPECpower_ssj2008 is the first industry-standard benchmark created by the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (SPEC) that evaluates the power and performance characteristics of volume server class and multi-node class computers. According to the white paper, the purpose of using this benchmark was to establish a level playing field to examine the true power efficiency of the Tier 1 blade server providers using identical configurations.

What Was Tested

Each blade chassis was fully populated with blade servers running a pair of Intel Xeon X5670 CPUs. In the Dell configuration, 16 x M610 blade servers were used, in the HP configuration, 16 x BL460c G6 blade servers were used and in the IBM configuration, 14 x HS22 blade servers was used since the IBM BladeCenter H holds a x maximum of 14 servers. Each server was configured with 6 x 4GB (24GB total) and 2 x 73GB 15k SAS drives, running Microsoft Windows Server 2008 Enterprise R2. Each chassis used the maximum amount of power supplies – Dell: 6, HP: 6 and IBM: 4 and was populated with a pair of Ethernet Pass-thru modules in the first two I/O bays.

Summary of the Findings

I don’t want to re-write the 48 page technical white paper, so I’ll summarize the results.

  • While running the CPUs at 40 – 60% utilization, Dell’s chassis used 13 – 17% less power than the HP C7000 with 16 x BL460c G6 servers
  • While running the CPUs at 40 – 60% utilization, Dell’s chassis used 19 – 20% less power than the IBM BladeCenter H with 14 x HS22s
  • At idle power, Dell’s chassis used 24% less power than the HP C7000 with 16 x BL460c G6 servers
  • At idle power, Dell’s chassis used 63.6% less power than the IBM BladeCenter H with 14 x HS22s

Dell - Blade Solution Chart

Following a review of the findings I had the opportunity to interview Dell’s Senior Product Manager for Blade Marketing, Robert Bradfield, , where I asked some questions about the study.

Question – “Why wasn’t Cisco’s UCS included in this test?”

Answer – The Dell testing team didn’t have the right servers. They do have a Cisco UCS, but they don’t have the UCS blade servers that would equal the BL460 G6 or the HS22’s.

Question – “Why did you use pass-thru modules for the design, and why only two?”

Answer – Dell wanted to create a level playing field. Each vendor has similar network switches, but there are differences. Dell did not want for those differences to impact the testing at all, so they chose to go with pass-thru modules. Same reason as to why they didn’t use more than 2. With Dell having 6 I/O bays, HP having 8 I/O bays and IBM having 8 I/O bays, it would have been challenging to create an equal environment to measure the power accurately.

Question – “How long did it take to run these tests?”

Answer – It took a few weeks. Dell placed all 3 blade chassis side-by-side but they only ran the tests on one chassis at a time. They wanted to give the test in progress absolute focus. In fact, the two chassis that were not being tested were not running at all (no power) because the testing team wanted to ensure there were no thermal variations.

Question – “Were the systems on a bench, or did you have them racked?”

Answer – All 3 chassis were racked – in their own rack. They were properly cooled with perforated doors with vented floor panels under the floor. In fact, the temperatures never varied by 1 degree between all enclosures.

Question – “Why do you think the Dell design offered the lowest power in these tests?”

Answer – There are three contributing factors to the success of Dell’s M1000e chassis offering a lower power draw over HP and IBM. The first is the 2700W Platinum certified power supply. It offers greater energy efficiency over previous power supplies and they are shipping as a standard power supply in the M1000e chassis now. However, truth be told, the difference in “Platinum” certified and “Gold” certified is only 2 – 3%, so this adds very little to the power savings seen in the white paper. Second is the technology of the Dell M1000e fans. Dell has patent pending fan control algorithms that help provide better fan efficiency. From what I understand this patent helps to ensure that at no point in time does the fan rev up to “high”. (If you are interested in reading about the patent pending fan control technology, pour yourself a cup of coffee and read all about it at the U.S. Patent Office website – application number 20100087965). Another interesting fact is that the fans used in the Dell M1000e are balanced by the manufacturer to ensure proper rotation. It is a similar process to the way your car tires are balanced – there is one or two small weights on each fan. (This is something you can validate if you own a Dell M1000e). Overall, it really comes down to the overall architecture of the Dell M1000e chassis being designed for efficient laminar airflow. In fact (per Robert Bradfield) when you look at the Dell M1000e as tested in this technical white paper versus the IBM BladeCenter H, the savings in power realized in a one year period would be enough power saved to power a single U.S. home for one year.

I encourage you, the reader, to review this Technical White Paper (Power Efficiency Comparison of Enterprise-Class Blade Servers and Enclosures) for yourself and see what your thoughts are. I’ve looked for things like use of solid state drives or power efficient memory DIMMs, but this seems to be legit. However I know there will be critics, so voice your thoughts in the comments below. I promise you Dell is watching to see what you think…

Last week at VMworld 2010 I had the opportunity to get some great pictures of HP and Dell’s newest blade servers. The HP Proliant BL620 G7, the HP Proliant BL680 G7 and the Dell PowerEdge M610X and M710HD. These newest blade servers are exciting offerings from HP and Dell so I encourage you to take a few minutes to look. Read the rest of this entry »

The Venetian Hotel and Casino Data CenterThey make it look so complicated in the movies. Detailed covert operations with the intent to hack into a casino’s mainframe preceeded by weeks of staged planned rehearsals, but I’m here to tell you it’s much easier than that.

This is my story of how I had 20 seconds of complete access to The Venetian Casino’s data center, and lived to tell about it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Part of the Technology Behind Lightfleet's Optical Interconnect Technology (courtesy Lightfleet.com)

CNET.com recently reported that for the past 7 years, a company called Lightfleet has been working on a way to replace the cabling and switches used in blade environments with light, and in fact has already delivered a prototype to Microsoft Labs. As the CNET article puts it, “No matter how fast the chips and memory inside servers get, there is always the challenge of how fast one can connect the different nodes together. And, historically, the more nodes you put in a blade server, the more complex that job of interconnection gets.” Traditionally, in blade designs, data is passed from one server to the next through the integrated switch which then routes the various signals, in the “light” model, Lightfleet’s servers broadcast the signal to all the others, and each server can receive the signal sent by every other node’s transmitters.

According to Lightfleet.com, Lightfleet’s Direct Broadcast Optical Interconnect (DBOI) is the first simultaneous, all-to-all, optical (light) interconnect technology. It speeds the flow of data between “nodes” (such as multiple processors inside a server), thus eliminating any bottlenecks that today’s switches and other interconnects introduce due to their hierarchical structure. DBOI greatly reduces the number of required cables and external switches. The result is increased communication speed, better reliability, lower operational costs, lower capital costs, lower cooling costs, and lower electrical power costs.

What’s the Big Deal?
This new technology innovation will create a fundamental change in how computing can be done in blade servers. Traditionally programmers have had to build in delays in their applications so the hardware can keep up. DBOI allows direct communication to all connected devices without the wait for a “dial tone” typically imposed by today’s interconnect technologies therefore all nodes can see all data, all the time, while continuously and simultaneously broadcasting. This will also drastically reduce the power required for communications between devices such as processors, computers and storage devices, which could potentially lower the overall power requirement needed by a blade environment.

Very interesting idea. I wonder which of the Big 4 (Cisco, Dell, IBM or HP) will adopt this technology first.

[READ THE FULL CNET.COM ARTICLE]

Intel is scheduled to “officially” announce today the details of their Nehalem EX CPU platform, although the details have been out for quite a while, however I wanted to highlight some key points.

Intel Xeon 7500 Chipset
This chipset will be the flagship replacement for the existing Xeon 7400 architecture. Enhancements include:
•Nehalem uarchitecture
•8-cores per CPU
•24MB Shared L3 Cache
• 4 Memory Buffers per CPU
•16 DIMM slots per CPU for a total of 64 DIMM slots supporting up to 1 terabyte of memory (across 4 CPUs)
•72 PCIe Gen2 lanes
•Scaling from 2-256 sockets
•Intel Virtualization Technologies

Intel Xeon 6500 Chipset
Perhaps the coolest addition to the Nehalem EX announcement by Intel is the ability for certain vendors to cut the architecture in half, and use the same quality of horsepower across 2 CPUs. The Xeon 6500 chipset will offer 2 CPUs, each with the same qualities of it’s bigger brother, the Xeon 7500 chipset. See below for details on both of the offerings.

Additional Features
Since the Xeon 6500/7500 chipsets are modeled off the familiar Nehalem uarchitecture, there are certain well-known features that are available. Both Turbo Boost and HyperThreading have been added to the and will provide users for the ability to have better performance in their high-end servers (shown left to right below.)

HyperThreading

Memory
Probably the biggest winner of the features that Intel’s bringing with the Nehalem EX announcement is the ability to have more memory and bigger memory pipes. Each CPU will have 4 x high speed “Scalable Memory Interconnects” (SMI’s) that will be the highways for the memory to communicate with the CPUs. As with the existing Nehalem architecture, each CPU has a dedicated memory controller that provides access to the memory. In the case of the Nehalem EX design, each CPU has 4 pathways that each have a Scalable Memory Buffer, or SMB, that provide access to 4 memory DIMMs. So, in total, each CPU will have access to 16 DIMMs across 4 pathways. Based on the simple math, a server with 4 CPUs will be able to have up to 64 memory DIMMs. Some other key facts:
• it will support up to 16GB DDR3 DIMMs
•it will support up to 1TB with 16GB DIMMS
•it
will support DDR3 DIMMs up to 1066MHz, in Registered, Single-Rank, Dual-Rank and Quad-Rank flavors.

Another important note is the actual system memory speed will depend on specific processor capabilities (see reference table below for max SMI link speeds per CPU):
•6.4GT/s SMI link speed capable of running memory speeds up to 1066Mhz
•5.86GT/s SMI link speed capable of running memory speeds up to 978Mhz
•4.8GT/s SMI link speed capable of running memory speeds up to 800Mhz

Here’s a great chart to reference on the features across the individual CPU offerings, from Intel:

Finally, take a look at some comparisons between the Nehalem EX (Xeon 7500) and the previous generation, Xeon 7400:

That’s it for now. Check back later for more specific details on Dell, HP, IBM and Cisco’s new Nehalem EX blade servers.

Chalk yet another win up for HP.

It was reported last week on www.itnews.com.au that Digital production house Dr. D. Studios is in the early stages of building a supercomputer grid cluster for the rendering of the animated feature film Happy Feet 2 and visual effects in Fury Road the long-anticipated fourth film in the Mad Max series. The super computer grid is based on HP BL490 G6 blade servers housed within an APC HACS pod, is already running in excess of 1000 cores and is expected to reach over 6000 cores during peak rendering by mid-2011.

This cluster boasted 4096 cores, taking it into the top 100 on the list of Top 500 supercomputers in the world in 2007 (it now sits at 447).

According to Doctor D infrastructure engineering manager James Bourne, “High density compute clusters provide an interesting engineering exercise for all parties involved. Over the last few years the drive to virtualise is causing data centres to move down a medium density path.”

Check out the full article, including video at:
http://www.itnews.com.au/News/169048,video-building-a-supercomputer-for-happy-feet-2-mad-max-4.aspx

InfoWorld.com posted on 3/22/2010 the results of a blade server shoot-out between Dell, HP, IBM and Super Micro. I’ll save you some time and help summarize the results of Dell, HP and IBM.

The Contenders
Dell, HP and IBM each provided blade servers with the Intel Xeon X5670 2.93GHz CPUs and at least 24GB of RAM in each blade.

The Tests
InfoWorld designed a custom suite VMware tests as well as several real-world performance metric tests. The VMware tests were composed of:

  • a single large-scale custom LAMP application
  • a load-balancer running Nginx
  • four Apache Web servers
  • two MySQL servers

InfoWorld designed the VMware workloads to mimic a real-world Web app usage model that included a weighted mix of static and dynamic content, randomized database updates, inserts, and deletes with the load generated at specific concurrency levels, starting at 50 concurrent connections and ramping up to 200. InfoWorld’s started off with the VMware tests first on one blade server, then across two blades. Each blade being tested were running VMware ESX 4 and controlled by a dedicated vCenter instance.

The other real-world tests included serveral tests of common single-threaded tasks run simultaneously at levels that met and eclipsed the logical CPU count on each blade, running all the way up to an 8x oversubscription of physical cores. These tests included:

  • LAME MP3 conversions of 155MB WAV files
  • MP4-to-FLV video conversions of 155MB video files
  • gzip and bzip2 compression tests
  • MD5 sum tests

The ResultsDell
Dell did very well, coming in at 2nd in overall scoring. The blades used in this test were Dell PowerEdge M610 units, each with two 2.93GHz Intel Westmere X5670 CPUs, 24GB of DDR3 RAM, and two Intel 10G interfaces to two Dell PowerConnect 8024 10G switches in the I/O slots on the back of the chassis

Some key points made in the article about Dell:

  • Dell does not offer a lot of “blade options.” There are several models available, but they are the same type of blades with different CPUs. Dell does not currently offer any storage blades or virtualization-centric blades.
  • Dell’s 10Gb design does not offer any virtualized network I/O. The 10G pipe to each blade is just that, a raw 10G interface. No virtual NICs.
  • The new CMC (chassis management controller) is a highly functional and attractive management tool offering new tasks like pusing actions to multiple blades at once such as BIOS updates and RAID controller firmware updates.
  • Dell has implemented more efficient dynamic power and cooling features in the M1000e chassis. Such features include the ability to shut down power supplies when the power isn’t needed, or ramping the fans up and down depending on load and the location of that load.

According to the article, “Dell offers lots of punch in the M1000e and has really brushed up the embedded management tools. As the lowest-priced solution…the M1000e has the best price/performance ratio and is a great value.”

HP
Coming in at 1st place, HP continues to shine in blade leadership. HP’s testing equipment consisted of a c7000 nine BL460c blades, each running two 2.93GHz Intel Xeon X5670 (Westmere-EP) CPUs and 96GB of RAM as well as embedded 10G NICs with a dual 1G mezzanine card. As an important note, HP was the only server vendor with 10G NICs on the motherboard. Some key points made in the article about HP:

  • With the 10G NICs standard on the newest blade server models, InfoWorld says “it’s clear that HP sees 10G as the rule now, not the exception.”
  • HP’s embedded Onboard Administrator offers detailed information on all chassis components from end to end. For example, HP’s management console can provide exact temperatures of every chassis or blade component.
  • HP’s console can not offer global BIOS and firmware updates (unlike Dell’s CMC) or the ability to powering up or down more than one blade at a time.
  • HP offers “multichassis management” – the ability to daisy-chain several chassis together and log into any of them from the same screen as well as manage them. This appears to be a unique feature to HP.
  • The HP c7000 chassis also has power controlling features like dynamic power saving options that will automatically turn off power supplies when the system energy requirements are low or increasing the fan airflow to only those blades that need it.

InfoWorld’s final thoughts on HP: “the HP c7000 isn’t perfect, but it is a strong mix of reasonable price and high performance, and it easily has the most options among the blade system we reviewed.”

IBM
Finally, IBM’s came in at 3rd place, missing a tie with Dell by a small fraction. Surprisingly, I was unable to find the details on what the configuration was for IBM’s testing. Not sure if I’m just missing it, or if InfoWorld left out the information, but I know IBM’s blade server had the same Intel Xeon X5670 CPUs as Dell and HP used. Some of the points that InfoWorld mentioned about IBM’s BladeCenter H offering:

  • IBM’s pricing is higher.
  • IBM’s chassis only holds 14 servers whereas HP can hold 32 servers (using BL2x220c servers) and Dell holds 16 servers.
  • IBM’s chassis doesn’t offer a heads-up display (like HP and Dell.)
  • IBM had the only redundant internal power and I/O connectors on each blade. It is important to note the lack of redundant power and I/O connectors is why HP and Dell’s densities are higher. If you want redundant connections on each blade with HP and Dell, you’ll need to use their “full-height” servers, which decrease HP and Dell’s overall capacity to 8.
  • IBM’s Management Module is lacking graphical features – there’s no graphical representation of the chassis or any images. From personal experience, IBM’s management module looks like it’s stuck in the ’90s – very text based.
  • The IBM BladeCenter H lacks dynamic power and cooling capabilities. Instead of using smaller independent regional fans for cooling, IBM uses two blowers. Because of this, the ability to reduce cooling in specific areas, like Dell and HP offer are lacking.

InfoWorld summarizes the IBM results saying, ” if you don’t mind losing two blade slots per chassis but need some extra redundancy, then the IBM BladeCenter H might be just the ticket.”

Overall, each vendor has their own pro’s and con’s. InfoWorld does a great job summarizing the benefits of each offering below. Please make sure to visit the InfoWorld article and read all of the details of their blade server shoot-out.

I wanted to post a few more rumours before I head out to HP in Houston for “HP Blades and Infrastructure Software Tech Day 2010” so it’s not to appear that I got the info from HP. NOTE: this is purely speculation, I have no definitive information from HP so this may be false info.

First off – the HP Rumour:
I’ve caught wind of a secret that may be truth, may be fiction, but I hope to find out for sure from the HP blade team in Houston. The rumour is that HP’s development team currently has a Cisco Nexus Blade Switch Module for the HP BladeSystem in their lab, and they are currently testing it out.

Now, this seems far fetched, especially with the news of Cisco severing partner ties with HP, however, it seems that news tidbit was talking only about products sold with the HP label, but made by Cisco (OEM.) HP will continue to sell Cisco Catalyst switches for the HP BladeSystem and even Cisco branded Nexus switches with HP part numbers (see this HP site for details.) I have some doubt about this rumour of a Cisco Nexus Switch that would go inside the HP BladeSystem simply because I am 99% sure that HP is announcing a Flex10 type of BladeSystem switch that will allow converged traffic to be split out, with the Ethernet traffic going to the Ethernet fabric and the Fibre traffic going to the Fibre fabric (check out this rumour blog I posted a few days ago for details.) Guess only time will tell.

The IBM Rumour:
I posted a few days ago a rumour blog that discusses the rumour of HP’s next generation adding Converged Network Adapters (CNA) to the motherboard on the blades (in lieu of the 1GB or Flex10 NICs), well, now I’ve uncovered a rumour that IBM is planning on following later this year with blades that will also have CNA’s on the motherboard. This is huge! Let me explain why.

The design of IBM’s BladeCenter E and BladeCenter H have the 1Gb NICs onboard each blade server hard-wired to I/O Bays 1 and 2 – meaning only Ethernet modules can be used in these bays (see the image to the left for details.) However, I/O Bays 1 and 2 are for “standard form factor I/O modules” while I/O Bays are for “high speed form factor I/O modules”. This means that I/O Bays 1 and 2 can not handle “high speed” traffic, i.e. converged traffic.

This means that IF IBM comes out with a blade server that has a CNA on the motherboard, either:

a) the blade’s CNA will have to route to I/O Bays 7-10
OR
b) IBM’s going to have to come out with a new BladeCenter chassis that allows the high speed converged traffic from the CNAs to connect to a high speed switch module in Bays 1 and 2.

So let’s think about this. If IBM (and HP for that matter) does put CNA’s on the motherboard, is there a need for additional mezzanine/daughter cards? This means the blade servers could have more real estate for memory, or more processors. If there’s no extra daughter cards, then there’s no need for additional I/O module bays. This means the blade chassis could be smaller and use less power – something every customer would like to have.

I can really see the blade market moving toward this type of design (not surprising very similar to Cisco’s UCS design) – one where only a pair of redundant “modules” are needed to split converged traffic to their respective fabrics. Maybe it’s all a pipe dream, but when it comes true in 18 months, you can say you heard it here first.

Thanks for reading. Let me know your thoughts – leave your comments below.