HP Doubles ProLiant Blade Density, Ships Entry Tower Server
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
It was not that many weeks ago that Brad Anderson, general manager of Hewlett-Packard's Industry Standard Server Group, said to me that the pursuit of increasing density in blade servers becomes a gimmick after a certain point. But the fact remains that rival IBM has been able to get more blades in a box than HP, and this has helped the company ramp up volumes in this nascent part of the server market at a rate that now exceeds that of HP. Gimmick or not, HP has to do something.
So this week, HP will preview at the Server Blade Summit in San Jose a new ProLiant BL blade server that allows it to double the density of processing capacity in its two-way Xeon DP blade designs. The ProLiant BL chassis is a 6U form factor that can house up to eight of the existing two-way Xeon DP blade servers, which are called the BL20p. These blades have integrated SCSI disk drives, which are important to certain customers who are running the blades not as compute nodes in a cluster, but as full-blown application servers that need to house their own data sets. To double the density on the new BL30p blade, HP has removed the SCSI storage from the blade, which cuts its width in half and therefore HP can now cram 16 two-way servers into a single chassis. The BL30p blade uses a single IDE-ATA disk drive to house a local operating system and relies on Gigabit Ethernet or dual Fibre Channel ports to link to NAS or SAN drives for the files that are actually used by applications running on the blade servers.
According to James Mouton, vice president of platforms for HP's Industry Standard Servers unit, HP can now put 192 Xeon DP processors into a single rack, compared to IBM's 168 processors with its two-way BladeCenter HS20 blades. For an equivalent number of processors of equal speed, that comes to a 14 percent performance advantage per rack for the HP ProLiant BL compared to IBM's BladeCenter. That may not be enough to help HP win a lot of deals against IBM on just density alone, but IBM had an 83 percent advantage on performance per rack prior to the advent of the BL30p, and that certainly was helping Big Blue win lots of deals. Mouton says that the BL30p is really aimed at those customers who are looking at getting the most performance per rack on the floor. He says that the BL30p will start shipping some time in the second quarter, and says further that while pricing has not been set, pricing will be consistent with the BL20p, with perhaps a slight premium to cover the cost of extra power supplies and fans needed to keep such a dense device cool. Incidentally, the BL20p, BL30p, and the four-way BL40p can all be mixed and matched in the same 6U BL chassis.
On the uniprocessor front, HP is coming out swinging with a new tower server called the ML110, part of its entry ProLiant 100 series. IBM and Dell in the Americas, Fujitsu-Siemens in Europe and Asia, and Legend and LangChou in China have all been growing entry server shipments faster than HP in the past year or so, and the company has seen that it needs to do better down at the low end in terms of getting a good server (meaning not just a PC tipped on its side) out the door at a ridiculously low price.
The ProLiant ML 110, which replaces the old HP tc2120 that has been discontinued, is similar to it in that it can use Celeron or Pentium 4 processors. The ML 110, however, uses much more powerful Celeron and Pentium 4 chips, the 2.6 GHz/128 KB L3 cache Celeron with a 400 MHz front side bus, the existing 2.8 GHz/512 KB "Northwood" Pentium 4 with a 533 MHz front side bus, and the new "Prescott" 3 GHz Pentium 4 with the 800 MHz front side bus, to be specific. It also costs less money, with an entry price of $499 for a base configuration that includes that Celeron chip, 256 MB of main memory (expandable to 4 GB), and a 40 GB ATA disk drive (expandable to 144 GB in four disk storage bays that are not hot pluggable). The ML 110 has three 64-bit PCI-X slots and 2 32-bit PCI slots and an integrated Gigabit Ethernet port. The system uses Intel's E7210 chipset, which supports PC3200 ECC DDR SDRAM memory and has an integrated dual-channel IDE-ATA disk adapter.
Customers who need more reliable and higher performing disks can opt for an optional SCSI disk controller and SCSI disk drives, which of course cost more. Those who need more performance--through higher clocks, bigger caches, and faster memory buses--can choose the Pentium 4 over the Celeron. A machine suing the 3 GHz Pentium 4 chip, 256 MB of memory, and an 80 GB ATA disk costs $929. A ready to go ML 110 with a 36 GB SCSI disk and Microsoft's Windows 2003 Small Business Server costs $1,549. Boosting memory to 1 GB on this machine boost the price to $2,000, and SCSI disks cost a few hundred bucks a pop.
Mouton says that on the tc2120, sales were heavier on the Celeron side than on the Pentium 4 side, and it is reasonable to assume that this trend will continue with the ML 110. However, when you consider that later this year the Prescott Pentium 4 chips will have their 64-bit extensions activated, the ML 110 will be a very inexpensive 64-bit server appropriate for running bigger databases than an entry server would have been able to do last year.
HP is going to support Linux, Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 (not just Windows 2003 SBS), and NetWare on the ML 110, and almost certainly supports SCO UnixWare and OpenServer if customers need it.