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One of the questions I get the most is, “which blade server option is best for me?” My honest answer is always, “it depends.” The reality is that the best blade infrastructure for YOU is really going to depend on what is important to you. Based on this, I figured it would be a good exercise to do a high level comparison of the blade chassis offerings from Cisco, Dell, HP and IBM. If you ready through my past blog posts, you’ll see that my goal is to be as unbiased as possible when it comes to talking about blade servers. I’m going to attempt to be “vendor neutral” with this post as well, but I welcome your comments, thoughts and criticisms. Read the rest of this entry »
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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.

ViewYonder.com recently posted a great write up on some things that Cisco’s UCS can do that IBM, Dell or HP really can’t. You can go to ViewYonder.com to read the full article, but here are 10 things that Cisco’s UCS Polices do:

  • Chassis Discovery – allows you to decide how many links you should use from the FEX (2104) to the FI (6100). This affects the path from blades to FI and the oversubscription rate. If you’ve cabled 4 I can just use 2 if you want, or even 1.
  • MAC Aging – helps you manage your MAC table? This affects ability to scale, as bigger MAC tables need more management.
  • Autoconfig – when you insert a blade, depending on its hardware config enables you to apply a specific template for you and put it in a organization automatically.
  • Inheritence – when you insert a blade, allows you to automatically create a logical version (Service Profile) by coping the UUID, MAC, WWNs etc.
  • vHBA Templates – helps you to determine how you want _every_ vmhba2 to look like (i.e. Fabric, VSAN, QoS, Pin to a border port)
  • Dynamic vNICs – helps you determine how to distribute the VIFs on a VIC
  • Host Firmware – enables you to determine what firmware to apply to the CNA, the HBA, HBA ROM, BIOS, LSI
  • Scrub – provides you with the ability to wipe the local disks on association
  • Server Pool Qualification – enables you to determine which hardware configurations live in which pool
  • vNIC/vHBA Placement – helps you to determine how to distribute VIFs over one/two CNAs?
  • For more on this topic, visit Steve’s blog at ViewYonder.com. Nice job, Steve!

    I’ve recently posted some rumours about IBM’s upcoming announcements in their blade server line, now it is time to let you know some rumours I’m hearing about HP. NOTE: this is purely speculation, I have no definitive information from HP so this may be false info. That being said – here we go:

    Rumour #1: Integration of “CNA” like devices on the motherboard.
    As you may be aware, with the introduction of the “G6”, or Generation 6, of HP’s blade servers, HP added “FlexNICs” onto the servers’ motherboards instead of the 2 x 1Gb NICs that are standard on most of the competition’s blades. FlexNICs allow for the user to carve up a 10Gb NIC into 4 virtual NICs when using the Flex-10 Modules inside the chassis. (For a detailed description of Flex-10 technology, check out this HP video.) The idea behind Flex-10 is that you have 10Gb connectivity that allows you to do more with fewer NICs.

    SO – what’s next? Rumour has it that the “G7” servers, expected to be announced on March 16, will have an integrated CNA or Converged Network Adapter. With a CNA on the motherboard, both the ethernet and the fibre traffic will have a single integrated device to travel over. This is a VERY cool idea because this announcement could lead to a blade server that can eliminate the additional daughter card or mezzanine expansion slots therefore freeing up valueable real estate for newer Intel CPU architecture.

    Rumour #2: Next generation Flex-10 Modules will separate Fibre and Network traffic.

    Today, HP’s Flex-10 ONLY allows handles Ethernet traffic. There is no support for FCoE (Fibre Channel over Ethernet) so if you have a Fibre network, then you’ll also have to add a Fibre Switch into your BladeSystem chassis design. If HP does put in a CNA onto their next generation blade servers that carry Fibre and Ethernet traffic, wouldn’t it make sense there would need to be a module that would fit in the BladeSystem chassis that would allow for the storage and Ethernet traffic to exit?

    I’m hearing that a new version of the Flex-10 Module is coming, very soon, that will allow for the Ethernet AND the Fibre traffic to exit out the switch. (The image to the right shows what it could look like.) The switch would allow for 4 of the uplink ports to go to the Ethernet fabric and the other 4 ports of the 8 port Next Generation Flex-10 switch to either be dedicated to a Fibre fabric OR used for additional 4 ports to the Ethernet fabric.

    If this rumour is accurate, it could shake up things in the blade server world. Cisco UCS uses 10Gb Data Center Ethernet (Ethernet plus FCoE); IBM BladeCenter has the ability to do a 10Gb plus Fibre switch fabric (like HP) or it can use a 10Gb Enhanced Ethernet plus FCoE (like Cisco) however no one currently has a device to split the Ethernet and Fibre traffic at the blade chassis. If this rumour is true, then we should see it announced around the same time as the G7 blade server (March 16).

    That’s all for now. As I come across more rumours, or information about new announcements, I’ll let you know.

    Happy New Year to all of my readers. As we enter a new decade, I wanted to give everyone who takes the time to read a few stats on how I’ve done since my inaugural posting on September 23, 2009. First a bit of a background. My main website is now located at BladesMadeSimple.com, however a few months prior to that I had a blog on WordPress.com at https://kevinbladeguy.wordpress.com/. Even though I have my own site, I have kept the WordPress.com site up as a mirror site primarily since Google has the site indexed and I get a lot of traffic from Google. SO – how’d I do? Well, here’s the breakdown:

    On https://kevinbladeguy.wordpress.com, I received 4,588 page views since Sept 23, 2009 with my article on “Cisco UCS vs IBM BladeCenter H” receiving 399 page views.

    On http://BladesMadeSimple.com, I received 2,041 page views which started up on November 1, 2009 with my article on Cisco UCS vs IBM BladeCenter H receiving 238 page views.

    Combined, that is 6,629 page views since September 23, 2009! As I’m still a virgin blogger, I’m not sure if that’s a good stat for a website devoted to talking about blade servers, but I’m happy with it. I hope that you will stay with my as I continue my voyage on keeping you informed on blade servers.

    Happy New Year!!