Monday, June 29, 2009

HPQ & CSCO: Analysis of New Blade Environments

I've been spending some significant time analyzing new entries into the blade computing market, and poking around in the corners where the trade rags and analysts have failed to investigate. And, as the line goes, "some of the answers may surprise you."

The two big recent entrants/announcements were Cisco's Unified Computing System (made this past March) and then HP's BladeSystem Matrix (made in June). Both are implicitly or explicitly taking aim at each other as they chase the enterprise data center market. They're also both teaming with virtualization providers, as well as hoping for success in cloud computing. Each has a differing technology approach to blade repurposing, and each differs in the type (and source) of management control software. But how revolutionary and simplifying are they?

HP's BladeSystem Matrix architecture is based on VirtualConnect infrastructure, and bundled with a suite of mostly existing HP software (Insight Dynamics - VSE, Orchestration, Recovery, Virtual Connect Enterprise Manager) which itself consists of about 21 individual products. Cautioned Paul Venezia in his Computerworld review:
“The setup and initial configuration of the Matrix product is not for the faint of heart. You must know your way around all the products quite well and be able to provide an adequate framework for the Matrix layer to function.”
From a network performance perspective, Matrix includes 2x10Gb ‘fabric’ connections, 16x8Gb SAN uplinks, and 16x10Gb Ethernet uplinks. The only major things missing from their "Starter Kit" suite they offer are the addition of VMware - not cheap if you choose to purchase it - as well as the addition of a blade (or two) to serve as controllers of the system.

From Cisco, the UCS System is based on a series of server enclosures interconnected via a converged network fabric (which does a somewhat analogous job of repurposing blades as does HP's VirtualConnect). The UCS Manager software bundled with the system provides core functionality (see diagram, right). Note, that at the bottom of their "stack", Cisco turns to partners such as BMC for "higher level" value such as high-availability and VMware for virtualization management. As sophisticated as it is, in contrast to HP, this software is essentially "1.0" and full integration w/third-party software is probably a bit more nascent than with HP.

As you would expect, the system has pretty fast networking; Cisco’s system includes 2x10Gb fabric interconnects, 8x4Gb SAN uplink ports, and 8x10Gb Ethernet uplink ports. (But as the system scales to 100's of blades, you can't get true 10Gb fabric point-to-point.)

But really, how simple?

What I continue to find surprising is how both vendors boast about simplicity. True, both have made huge strides in the hardware world to allow for blade repurposing, I/O, address, and storage naming portability, etc. However, in the software domain, each still relies on multiple individual products to accomplish tasks such as SW provisioning, HA/availability, VM management, load balancing, etc. So there's still that nasty need to integrate multiple products and to work across multiple GUIs.

A little comparison chart (at right) shows what an IT shop might have to do to accomplish a list of typical functions. Clearly there are still many 3rd-party products to buy, and many GUIs and controls to learn.

Still, these systems are - believe it or not - a major step forward in IT management. As technology progresses, I would assume both vendors will attempt to more closely integrate (and/or acquire?) technologies and products to form more seamless management products for their gear.


roidude said...


Nice post, but I have to take a bit of issue with your comments on UCS. Almost everything UCS does is with UCSM. While Cisco does rely on third parties such as BMC for full automation and orchestration, but customers can to it themselves with the XML apis. The UCSM interface is all in XML so a right mouse click gets the XML syntax.

And as far as simplicity goes, this is an excerpt from an email that I received from a customer just a few days ago:

"Initial build - In our case the time it took to un-box the solution, rack, cable, bring online, and install VMware was about six hours with two guys. We were building VMs and remarking at how fast it all went. Planning and managing cabling from a traditional blade solution to the storage and ethernet networks is a usually a major task. However, with UCS it was all just as simple as choosing how much redundancy/performance we wanted between the 6120s and the chassis and then connecting the uplinks to the network and storage.

Administration - The UCS Manager interface is far and away the best of breed interface I've used. In comparing it to the Dell, HP, and IBM systems I've managed in the past I certainly have developed a love for how logically it's laid out. A lot of what you'll pay extra for to buy something like IBM's Open Fabric Manager is included in the UCS solution, multi-chassis blade redundancy for example. It also doesn't require a separate server and is already redundant as the solution is designed that way. UCS feels to me like it's more IT administrator centric than the counterparts that I've used."

EoptionsOnline said...

Quite interesting post it is. Specially hp blade products are well known in the market and its configuration is also perfect.
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