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HP Adds Egenera Blade Management To Battle Cisco

The partnership with Egenera allows HP to add more converged networking expertise and improved disaster recovery for data centers.

Slideshow: Apotheker Takes The Stage, Paints An HP Cloud Vision
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Slideshow: Apotheker Takes The Stage, Paints An HP Cloud Vision
HP is adding Egenera's blade management system as another arrow in its quiver in the continuing battle with Cisco Systems to offer the best unified computing services in the data center.

Egenera will layer a respected high availability and disaster recovery system onto the converged networking that HP already provides with its BladeSystem c7000 enclosures. Egenera's own ability to supply converged networking puts it in a position to leverage HP's switching capabilities and add management features on top of it.

HP blades and Egenera's PAN Manager management system "makes a great private cloud platform" for the highly virtualized x86 servers in the data center, claimed Egenera CEO Pete Manca in an interview before Thursday's announcement. The management system treats a set of blades as a single system, with pooled memory and storage. It manages applications running on the blades as components of multi-tenant systems, and can apply chargebacks for their use to individual users.

PAN Manager also converts the blade enclosure into a redundant, highly available computing system for critical production applications. In the event of a software fault or hardware failure, it offers automated disaster recovery.

The ability to apply and manage converged networking servers has become a point of hot competition in the server market. Data center servers that have been heavily virtualized -- instead of running one application, they're running multiple apps -- need converged networking to move the I/O traffic off of host servers. Such converged traffic typically includes both 8-Gbps Fibre Channel storage packets and 10-Gbps Ethernet communications.

Cisco charged into the blade server market 18 months ago with the ability to offload converged network traffic into its network fabric. HP's partnership with Egenera, which first brought a converged networking system to market 10 years ago, is another move in its attempt to forestall Cisco's success.

In 2009, in the midst of the recession, a little-known pioneer in the unified computing market, Egenera, stopped functioning as an HP hardware competitor by halting production of its BladeFrame system. Instead, it concentrated on a software-only approach, noted Manca. That made Egenera a candidate to become an HP partner. HP announced that move Thursday morning.

Egenera's capabilities will be added to HP c7000 series blade enclosures. Egenera's Processing Area Network, or PAN, Manager is an attempt to apply a storage-area networking approach to inter-server communications. It supplies high-speed network and management software over a single 16-blade enclosure. HP had already come up with Virtual Connect, its own method of moving converged communications off the virtualized host server, but PAN Manager brings additional features and a prized disaster recovery capability.

A future version of PAN Manager for HP c7000, due in September, will handle up to 64 blades across four enclosures.

PAN Manager is already one of Dell's offerings as an alternative to Cisco's converged networking, and InformationWeek reported two years ago on their combined capabilities on the private cloud inside the enterprise.

PAN Manager also is offered by Fujitsu as an alternative to Cisco. The combination of Dell and Fujitsu represents about 15% of the blade server market that is used to host converged communications, said Manca. With the addition of HP, Egenera and HP's Virtual Connect Flex Fabric will become a more full-featured competitor to Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS). HP is estimated to ship 55% of the blades hosting converged communications, he said.

Virtual Connect is HP's system for offloading the software switch in a hypervisor that routes storage and networking traffic to their respective I/O ports. It's a known bottleneck on heavily virtualized servers that have resulted from server consolidation and early attempts to implement private cloud computing. Virtual Connect deflects the switching task from the hypervisor into HP's FlexFabric switching module, which divides the traffic into its respective parts and sends it to the SAN storage or Ethernet network.

Cisco figured out how to not only converge networking on its UCS servers, but also how to pack them with random access memory. The first models could support 384 GBs, more than their HP and IBM competitors. But the competitors, particularly HP, have found more ways of fighting back, stalling Cisco's entry into servers. UCS represented one of Cisco's smallest revenue producers in 2010, as cited in Practical Analysis: Cisco's Conundrum.

In Thursday's announcement, Egenera customer Daiwa Institute, the research arm of Daiwa Securities, said it would use the Egenera addition to HP BladeSystem as the basis for its planned build out of a private cloud. Koichi Suzuki, senior executive managing director, said Egenera's management interface streamlined the task of building "a simple, reliable platform for our business critical operations."

HP had an effective answer to converged server networking before its partnership with Egenera, Janice Zdankus, VP of solution enablement industry standard servers and software at HP, said in an interview. But with Egenera, it gets added features on top of the Virtual Connect Flex Fabric switching.

"We're bringing in a high availability and disaster recovery solution that adds more value" to HP blades, she said. It will allow customers "to create a dynamic, flexible pool of compute resources that can be accessed on the fly," she said.

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