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Blade = Enterprise Server?

HP reported at this summer's HP Technology Forum that the company leads the world in market share of blade servers. IDC numbers at mid-year show Hewlett-Packard is selling almost every other blade server in a growing marketplace. HP said its blade business is up 68 percent from last year.

To be sure, the message from the vendor's marketing is wrapped around blades. Michelle Weiss, VP of marketing for the Business Critical Systems, said the compact servers show the way on the HP map to the future.

"In the next generation datacenter, the whole idea is much more modular, much more efficient," she said. The only press release HP handed out at the conference touted the arrival of bladed — yes, another noun become a verb — NonStop servers. The 24x7 mission critical environment which HP retained, after departing the 3000 community, was held up as an example of how HP could blade any IT need.

But is it true for the HP 3000 customer, the one who's moving a typical big box server onto one of HP's other environments? Riding the HP blade wave will mean following a brand new roadmap.

As it turns out, "blades everywhere" has some caveats. Yes, they are very good at matching the amount of horsepower your 3000s deliver, so long as you stack many of them in a rack. But what of the connectivity and expansion capabilities?

It depends who you ask. HP points to the C3000 and C7000 blade racks to report that they can take on whatever networking, storage and memory needs a customer would require. But ask for the Blade Server Total Cost of Ownership white paper from IDC — sponsored by HP, no less — and you don't have to get off the first page to see that "blade server systems are all about exploiting the economies of scale when deploying servers in volume."

"In volume" may turn out to describe the number of HP-UX "instances" you will need to run to replace an HP 3000 running one copy of MPE/iX. But "in volume" server installations don't look anything like consolidated IT resources of your existing enterprise server. For one- or two-server customers, blades won't map onto the IT architecture of much of the 3000 customer base. This is a marketplace where any count of servers above 20 is cause for notice. Not so, of course, in the Unix configuration, where it seems that every application had its own server to call home.

The hidden value in the blade offering, one which could benefit migrating 3000 customers, is the server management software which is built-in. Weiss said that "because we're all hardware people, what gets buried is the management story." Integrated Lights Out management software made the jump from HP's Proliant line as a result of the NonStop blade initiative. What's known as iLO on the HP product charts is making an entry into the enterprise.

HP says that iLO is a good match for a certain type of small to medium-sized business. See if any of these scenarios might use some help:

  • Where distributed servers sites are supported by either centralized or remote IT resources
  • Where diagnose-before-dispatch procedures for remote servers are being implemented or improved
  • Where budget pressures are forcing higher support deployed servers-to-support staff ratios
  • Where reduced response time and increased remote servers accessibility are part of the solution to increase server uptime
  • Where current travel cost and travel related productivity losses are targets for reduction

Can it come as much of a surprise that HP's vision for your enterprise IT datacenter is sliced into thin blades, or to put it another way, dozens to hundreds of individual hardware units? Yes, they take a fraction of floor space and an even smaller percentage of power. It seems that the blade advantage is greater for a customer whose IT architecture can be sliced into thin resources.

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