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HP Overhauls Server Blade Platform

The new c-Class platform will replace the p-Class family, enabling users to cut acquisition costs, energy consumption, and cooling requirements. It will offer higher densities, enhanced management capabilities, and the ability to mix and match server and storage blades within the same chassis.
The c-Class platform also will provide the ability to mix and match server and storage blades within the same chassis. The chassis will support up to six hot-plug SAS or Serial ATA drives in a direct-attached environment, or up to 15 shared storage blades for an entire enclosure to share.

HP also is introducing one- to four-processor blades based on Intel Xeon and Itanium processors, and Advanced Micro Device's Opteron processors.

Tim Dougherty, director of BladeCenter strategies for IBM, says he believes blade customers do not want to deal with major departures from their existing infrastructures.

"The HP platform appears to be a complete break with the current blade implementation," Dougherty says. "For customers who have already bought into their products, this may not be that great of a situation."

Dougherty says that as IBM has brought out new generation blade chassis in 2002, 2004, and 2006, it has maintained compatibility so that existing blades can swap out with new chassis designs.

HP says it will continue to support its p-Class server blades through 2012.

Some earlier customer reaction is positive.

Tony Linville, senior manager of infrastructure services for CernerWorks, a provider of health care IT solutions based in Kansas City, says he would have preferred that the new HP blade platform had maintained a common chassis, but doesn't see the switch to be a major issue. He said he's looking forward to the improvements promised with the c-Class platform.

"The improved integration of power supplies into the chassis, the enhanced air removal capabilities, and the added power distribution and redundancy in the backplane are all features that didn't exist with the p-Class systems," Linville says.

CernerWorks has about 2,500 HP blades in operation, and anticipates adding about 1,800 over the course of the next year.

"I don't see any real downside to what they've done. I only see improvements," says Kevin Donnellan, director of enterprise infrastructure services for the Screen Actors Guild's Producers Pension and Health Plans. "Unless you're a very small shop and get stuck with a very under-populated (old) chassis, I don't see the problem. And blades in general don't lend themselves to use in small numbers."

The c-Class chassis and blades will enhance the reasons why Donnellan helped move the SAG data center to a blade implementation about three years ago -- consolidation with increased densities within a limited data center footprint.

"From what we've seen at this point, there will be a 30% reduction in chassis size, about double the total server density, lower cost per server, and an improved power configuration," he says. "I think they took customer concerns to heart. We were participants in a blade advisory council, and they took a lot our suggestions for reduced footprint, reduced cooling, and localized storage."

Kevin Galvin, director of LAN services for Sodexho, a Buffalo-based provider of food and facilities management products and services, says the enhanced monitoring capabilities with LED readout on each chassis will be a welcomed change.

"You're not always in front of your computer," he says. "You spend a lot of time walking through the data center, and you want to be able to get the touch, taste, and feel as you walk by."