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HP adds multiprocessing to blade servers but rivals retain an edge

Hewlett-Packard has taken its blade servers to the next level by adding multiprocessor capabilities to the former Compaq Proliant BL range, writes Eric Doyle.

Blades, highly compact, low-power, low heat-producing servers, were introduced by Compaq last year as a new category of server ideally suited to high-density server farms, such as large-scale, clustered Web hosting facilities, where space is limited.

With the take-over of Compaq, HP has now taken control of the development of the systems and the HP Proliant BL 20p is the first new product in the renamed line.

The Proliant blade can carry two Intel Pentium III processors backed by up to 4Gbytes of memory and two hot-plug SCSI drives giving 144Gbytes of storage.

The server is designed for high availability with redundant network interface cards and an integrated Raid controller sporting a battery-backed write cache.

HP's integrated lights-out technology provides blade management which can access the server remotely, even if the operating system is not functioning. Replacing or fitting a blade into the specially designed enclosure, which provides the interlinking bus between multiple blades, involves sliding out the old blade and pushing in the new one, the company said.

HP's product was preceded by Dell's launch of blade servers. It also comes in the month when IBM will launch into the blade market with products first announced earlier this year, followed by Sun Microsystems' expected announcement of its entry into the low-cost blade market, which aims to please the company's strong following in the Internet service provider market.

Iain Stephen, UK ISS director for HP, said, "While most of our competitors are just now beginning to introduce blade offerings, HP has already begun the second phase of delivering comprehensive blade systems, from Proliant BL e-Class low-voltage blades for front-end applications to more advanced Proliant BL p-Class dual- and, eventually, four-processor performance blades for mid-tier and back-end applications."

Richard Fichera, analyst at the Giga Information Group, does not share Stephen's optimistic view of HP's achievement.

"IBM's server blades are the highest-performance dual-CPU blades announced to date by a major supplier," he said. "They are targeted, as are competitors Dell and HP, at the mid-tier of the enterprise application stack, as opposed to being targeted at low-power edge services."

IBM has already topped HP's offering by basing its servers on Intel Xeon-DP processors with support for up to 8Gbytes of memory.

The use of the Serverworks Grand Champion LE chipset should offer similar performance to many two-way Xeon-DP rack-mount servers, Fichera claimed.

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