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Overview and experiences with HP BladeSystem.

by Philip Sellers

For anyone who found this post looking for my week two post for the Blogger Reality Show, please see the Simplifying IT support and deployments with converged systems post instead.  This post is just more or less general info about HP BladeSystem and my experiences.  

I worked with HP to deploy two HP BladeSystem C7000 chassis in my work datacenters about three years ago.  Our group has two enclosures in to separate datacenters which are mirrors of each other in configuration.  At first, we only ran Windows clusters on the BladeSystems with one node in each enclosure.  We considered this a safe way to get familiar with the technology, management and understand the reliability of the BladeSystem in our environment.  We, as others have, did find the enclosures to be very reliable, eventually reconfiguring them to add Virtual Connect Flex-10 and moving some of our ESX onto BladeSystem.  Today, HP BladeSystem runs a very large percentage of our overall infrastructure.

Some of the BladeSystem advantages we found are:

  • Reduced energy costs and better energy management by collapsing multiple servers into a single enclosure
  • Reduced footprint in the datacenter and increased density
  • Reduced cabling and no need to re-cable enclosures if using the VirtualConnect technology (wire once)
  • Condensed space required in the datacenter – in a C7000 chassis, up to 16 servers in 10U of space.  In the past, 16 servers would require a minimum of 16U (1U servers) and worst case of up to 64U (4U servers) in the rack
  • Allows users to mix and match workloads and types of servers while keeping management tools the same

Just as with the Converged Storage solution I covered last week, it is a small incremental cost to scale up, after the initial chassis investment.  The incremental cost to add a server is much smaller than buying an entire rack mount server.  And we reap the benefits of buying the newest, fastest servers with the most memory possible as those limits increase and we only buy the blades as we need them.

It appears that management was a primary focus when HP created the BladeSystems.  The OA or Onboard Administrator is the primary resource for configuring, managing and monitoring the chassis.  From the OA, you can manage the system IP addresses, configuration of the blades and interconnect bays and launch into other management interfaces.  The standard iLO or Integrated Lights Out management processor, which is a separate processor found on all Proliant servers (rackmount or blade) is the individual server blade administration point and it is very well integrated into the OA.  For those customers who choose HP’s Virtual Connect technology, you can launch into the Virtual Connect Administration panel from within the OA, too.  The VC administrator is where you configure virtualized MAC address and Fiber Channel WWID assignments which allows you to create a network and SAN profile for a particular server which contains virtual addresses assigned to the blade.  If the blade has a hardware problem, the profile can be reassigned and the blade can be booted to another blade, if one is available.  In addition, Insight Control is available which allows for enhanced automation of deployments and management.

The only downside I can report is that we have found firmware upgrades to be fairly invasive and disruptive due to the amount of infrastructure that has been condensed into a single enclosure.  Because of this, we have designed the workloads on the BladeSystem so that we can fail-over workloads from on enclosure to the other with minimal disruption.  We use Microsoft Failover Clusters, vSphere (which allows vMotion of workloads), and XenApp which allows us to put hosts in maintenance mode and move users off of them.  The firmware process has improved since HP introduced the concept of release sets for BladeSystem firmware last year, but it still takes some coordination on our part.

HP BladeSystem is the market leader in blades according to IDC.  It has consistently held the number one spot in blade market share quarter after quarter, with 50% of the blade servers shipped during Q1 2011.  It is not just market fluff or creative interpretation when HP says they are the leader in blades.

The HP BladeSystem has been a rock solid solution for our needs.  I commented last week to my boss that by far our most capable servers in the datacenter are in our blade centers.  Where blade computing began and is today is a huge leap.  There is almost nothing that cannot fit into a blade server.

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