HP BladeSystem c-Class

Does HP's latest c-Class server maintain the award winning performance of its predecessor? Dave Mitchell finds out.

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£2,785

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According to analysts IDC, the top position for the blade server market share during 2007 was held firmly by HP, with it taking a healthy 42.1 per cent. This comes as no surprise as since its launch the BladeSystem c-Class has consistently delivered a solid range of innovative features and capabilities. We last saw it in our enterprise blade server round-up in 2006, where it won a coveted IT Pro Editor's Choice award and now the time is right for a return visit to see what's new and improved.

At its foundation there are no significant changes as the c-Class chassis is still the 10U high 7000c enclosure. It has room for up to sixteen half-height or eight full-height server blades or a mixture of both and these all connect to a high-speed 5Tb/sec mid-plane. A key feature of the c-Class is that unlike IBM's BladeCenter H, its mid-plane is almost entirely passive and aims to offer improved reliability. In fact, its only active component is designed to store the unit's serial number.

Power options include single-phase or three-phase supplies where the former is facilitated by up to six hot-swap modules located at the base of the front panel and linked to six input sockets at the rear. Intelligent power supply management ensures that the system will only use the minimum necessary and the chassis can turn off supplies that aren't needed.

For cooling, the chassis can handle up to ten hot-swap fan modules, which are based on jet engine principles and built in chassis intelligence ensures that each blade slot doesn't have to rely on a dedicated module. Thermal sensors dynamically control each fan and if you're not using the full compliment the chassis zoning feature enables individual fans to be positioned where they're needed most.

During the review we were able to take a close look at all of HP's current blades. It offers an impressive selection of half-height and full-height models that support a wide range of processor options with the latest Xeon and Opteron dual- and quad-core DP and MP versions on the list. For server blade storage SAS is HP's preferred hard disk interface with the half-height blades supporting a pair of hot-swap 2.5in SFF hard disks. If you want more storage potential then look towards the full height server blades which have room for four hot-swap drives.

AMD's long-awaited quad-core Opteron 'Barcelona' is now supported, with the BL685c delivering a full height blade with four processor sockets. Internal design is very tidy with the front pair of sockets staggered to avoid interfering with air flow to the two rear sockets. Each processor is accompanied by a dedicated bank of four DIMM slots supporting 667MHz DDR2 memory.

The new BL680c server blade brings Intel's Xeon 7300 MP into play. Internal design is substantially different to the BL685c as the four processors are laid out in a line at the front of the blade with each one topped off with a substantial passive heatsink. The blade has a massive memory expansion potential with a bank of sixteen DIMM sockets supporting up to 128GB. Even Intel's Itanium gets a look in as the new BL870c blade supports the latest quad-core 9100 series.

More cost conscious deployments have been addressed with the BL260e G5 entry level blade. This is only available as a Xeon DP variant and although offered primarily in a single processor configuration it can support two. Storage options are more limited as no hot-swap bays are provided and the blade supports up to two fixed SFF SATA drives, which are mounted in a removable tray above the processor sockets.

The SB40c blade increases storage potential as it provides direct attached storage to whichever server blade it sits next to. This blade is now part of HP's AiO SB600c solution, which brings it together with a BL460c Xeon server blade running Windows Storage Server 2003 R2. Operationally, the SB600c is identical to HP's AiO400 appliance, where it presents its storage as iSCSI targets or NAS and provides simple setup routines for migrating databases and Exchange mail stores across to a dedicated IP SAN.

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