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.