HP debuts 'data center in a box'

By Kevin Komiega

—Hewlett-Packard this week launched a new server blade system that it claims will change the way IT organizations manage servers, storage, and virtually every other device in the data center. The new box, dubbed the BladeSystem c-Class, includes a number of features aimed at bringing the management of all IT resources under a single platform.

At its core, the c-Class features a new set of virtualization tools, management software, and power and cooling enhancements. HP executive vice president Ann Livermore says the "guts" of the system are designed around a new architecture called Virtual Connect, which enables users to wire the system one time and make subsequent server, storage, and network changes and modifications on-the-fly via virtualized Ethernet and Fibre Channel connections.

The system also comes with HP Insight Control Management software, which, according to company officials, provides for the unified management of physical and virtual servers, storage, networking, and power and cooling through a single console.

"We can literally virtualize everything," claims Paul Miller, vice president of marketing for HP's ProLiant and BladeSystem server business. "Virtual Connect virtualizes the I/O and transforms the way servers and storage and networks are managed and changed."

HP also brought its printer team into the mix to aid in alleviating management woes. The result is the new Onboard Administrator, which provides an interface for the setup, control, monitoring, troubleshooting, and repair of the c-Class infrastructure through a series of built-in modules.

Part of HP's new BladeSystem blitz is the promise that the company will "blade everything," including all of its storage products. So far the company has announced blade versions of several of its storage devices that can be popped in and out of the new c-Class enclosure. They include the StorageWorks Enterprise File Services WAN Accelerator and the EFS Clustered gateway, as well as the entire line of ProLiant Data Protection Servers and ProLiant Storage Server NAS devices.

The BladeSystem c-Class will support a number of heterogeneous SANs beginning, of course, with HP's StorageWorks SAN products. The company states on its Website that end users can access StorageWorks storage arrays and Fibre Channel tape libraries using the blades' Fibre Channel connectivity options.

As for third-party SAN connectivity, HP says its family of ProLiant p-Class blade servers already supports cross-vendor storage devices and that storage arrays from vendors such as EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, and IBM have been certified to work with HP blade servers.

In addition, the BladeSystem c-Class enclosures use 4Gbps Fibre Channel SAN switches and redundant 4Gbps Fibre Channel HBAs for SAN connectivity.

HP's partners are already providing—or at least pledging—support for the new system, including application and hardware vendors such as AMD, Blade Network Technologies, Brocade, Cisco, Citrix, Emulex, Intel, Mellanox, Microsoft, Novell, Oracle, PolyServe, QLogic, Red Hat, SAP, VMware, and Voltaire.

The HP BladeSystem c-Class portfolio is expected to be available in July. Pricing for the system has not been made public.

Many industry pundits have been predicting the arrival of a "data center in a box" system for some time, but the impact on how network storage is built, bought, and configured may not be as massive as HP is predicting.

"The only impact to storage will be the elimination of local, direct-attached storage at that tier of server, which is how it should be," says Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group. "Ultimately, blades are the natural evolution to disaggregating the physical components of bounded machines and enabling the kind of flexibility we need moving forward."

This article was originally published on June 15, 2006