HP unveils storage blade

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Hewlett-Packard (HP) made a splash at the Storage Networking World show in Orlando with its new StorageWorks SB40c storage blade that tucks into the company's c-Class BladeSystem.

"It's the first blade truly for storage," says Jed Scaramella, research analyst for servers at IDC. IBM offers a storage expansion blade with up to three drives, "but it's usually used as a hot-plug for boot and swap, not data," he says.

The SB40c storage blade supports up to six serial-attached SCSI (SAS) or SATA hot-swappable 146GB drives for a total of 876GB of storage per blade. SAS and SATA blades can be mixed in the same enclosure, although HP advises keeping them in different physical RAID sets. The c-Class BladeSystem has room for 16 blades total, eight of each. The storage blade uses HP's Smart Array P400 controller that supports RAID 0, 1, 5 and 6, and provides 256MB of cache. It can be attached to external storage via Fibre Channel (FC) or iSCSI.

Configuration and setup is wizard driven using HP's Array Configuration Utility and the blade is managed using Systems Insight Manager, HP's server management tool. Right now, it's one server blade for one storage blade, side by side, according to Steve Gillaspy, group manager for HP's BladeSystem. But future storage blades will provide more capabilities; for example, one to many, he says. He declined to give a timeline for that functionality.

Tom Kucharvy, senior VP at Ovum Summit in Boston, says the HP storage blade will "dramatically increase the utility of the BladeSystem," which itself will eventually fill many different roles beyond traditional servers. "Blades will be optimized for specific applications or kinds of storage; there'll be a NAS blade, a blade for messaging, a blade for CRM," he says.

It becomes "an office in a box," says Kyle Ohme, director of IT at Freeze.com in Sartell, MN, and an IBM BladeCenter user. Freeze.com has approximately 100 servers on blades attached to 8TB of external FC storage.

"We're hammering on our storage pretty hard; for what we do, I don't think blades could handle it," he says. He thinks it's a great concept, however, for branch offices that want to "drop it down and run everything on one piece of hardware."

HP notes that DAS is still significantly cheaper than building out a SAN or NAS. "There's no need for switches or cabling or additional power and cooling, and it's simple to manage," claims the firm's Gillaspy, adding that it's the first in a "portfolio of storage blades" HP plans to introduce.

Meanwhile, Geoffrey Noer, senior director of product marketing at Rackable Systems, says the storage blade approach is "very limited in scope and scale." He adds that "with direct-attached storage in this configuration, you have a different file system on each blade, which is very inflexible." Rackable sells a product that mounts x86 servers back-to-back in a standard rack. The company recently acquired Terrascale Technologies, a provider of clustered file-system technology, to provide high I/O throughput in high-performance clusters. "With Terrascale, we create a single pool of storage for all the servers," says Noer.

According to the latest IDC report on worldwide server blade revenue, IBM led the market for the first half of 2006, reporting $488 million in revenue and a 39.9% market share. HP was a close second with $459 million in revenue and a 37.5% market share. Dell was third with $133 million and 10.8% of the market. Fujitsu Siemens, NEC, Hitachi, Rackable Systems and Sun Microsystems are the remaining suppliers.

--Jo Maitland

This was first published in November 2006

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