Viglen HXBL200 Blade Server
In our last blade server group test we brought you exclusive reviews of products from all the big guns and were mightily impressed with the systems supplied by HP, IBM, Fujitsu Siemens and Dell. However, we did also observe at the time that despite the blade server market having matured over the past five years your choices have always been restricted to a comparatively small group of vendors. Well, not any more as Viglen now enters the fray with its latest HXBL200.
Supermicro is the power behind the throne as the HXBL200 is its new SuperBlade system. This Tiawanese system manufacturer has been threatening to deliver a blade server for a number of years but has always held back. The reason it has launched now is it wanted to offer a system that it truly believed was a cost-effective alternative to standard rack servers. With Viglen's Xeon starter bundle costing a shade over 6,000 it certainly looks to have achieved this as this particular package includes not only the chassis, a Gigabit switch blade and a pair of power supplies but also a quad-core E5365 Xeon server blade as well. The AMD startup package looks even better value as this includes one server blade with no less than four quad-core AMD 8347 processors. Add in the fact that the 7U chassis has room for ten blades and this equates to no less than 960 Opteron cores in an industry standard 42U rack - a density no other blade server manufacturer can currently match let alone beat.
General build quality is very good although the cooling arrangements leave something to be desired as the power supplies are also tasked with these duties and are equipped with large internal radial fans. At the rear you have room for up to four supplies with the price for the startup packages including a pair of 2000W modules. Adding two more gives you good power redundancy and Supermicro offers a choice of 1400W, 2000W and 2500W options. It claims these are all highly efficient and has shown some forethought as the high output model is designed to supply enough juice for the next generation of Xeon MP server blades. The supplies are clearly capable of shunting large volumes of air through the chassis but we reckon the turbine style cooling modules on HP's BladeSystem c-Class are a far more elegant, and quieter, solution.
The chassis has four expansion slots at the rear that accept Supermicro's pass-through, Layer 2 Gigabit switch and InfiniBand blades. The Gigabit switches provide ten internal and ten external network ports and with two installed you can use both network ports on each server blade. What you don't get at the moment are options for fibre channel links such as those offered by HP's Brocade blades. For the Infiniband option you need to install an additional mezzanine card on each server blade and Supermicro also plans to offer a 10-Gigabit option that uses the same arrangement. A planned future option that will make the HXBL200 more unusual is the possibility of adding expansion modules that accept PCI-e cards which link up with the two 8X PCI-e buses on each server blade.
For server blades Viglen currently offers Xeon dual- and quad-core processors or AMD's quad-core Opterons. The Xeon blades accept a pair of 3.5in. hot-swap SATA drives and the embedded RAID controller supports stripes and mirrors. Alternatively, you can plump for the Xeon blade that supports up to six 2.5in. SFF SATA drives and adds RAID-5 arrays to the mix. What you gain in processing power for the AMD quad-socket blades you lose in the storage department as the four sockets on the blade motherboard only leave enough room for a couple of fixed internal 2.5in. SFF SATA drives to be fitted.
Remote management is on the cards as the chassis has two more expansion slots at the rear that accept Supermicro's chassis management modules (CMMs) which provide web browser access to the system. The interface is well designed and provides good levels of access to the chassis, server blades and all interconnect modules. Local devices on the management system can be used as virtual boot devices for selected blades and we liked the fact that remote control comes as standard - HP charges extra as this is an optional feature on its Systems Insight Manager software. During testing we found it easy enough to deploy and manage the HXBL200 as the blades can also be accessed locally using the supplied cable as well as remotely over KVM.
Whereas HP and IBM both offer OS and application deployment tools with their respective management software Viglen has no need to do this as it will supply the system preconfigured with your choice of OS. The system can also be accessed over IPMI and Supermicro has revamped its IPMI View 2.0 software which now delivers a very tidy interface to accommodate the HXBL200. Graphics are provided to show the status of all installed blades plus power supplies, CMMs and expansion modules. You can also keep track of the fan speeds in each power supply and chassis environmental values as well. For general blade server management the bundled tools do the job nicely but you'll need to look towards HP's or IBM's blade servers if you want sophisticated chassis and blade power controls.
This blade server has been a long time coming but Supermicro has made the wait worthwhile. Viglen's HXBL200 may not offer the same level of expansion options or remote management capabilities as HP's BladeSystem c-Class but it certainly wins out for sheer value and a quite remarkable processing density.
Viglen delivers a well built blade server with value high on the agenda. It's not as sophisticated as equivalent systems from HP and IBM but for your money you're getting a lot of hardware and the highest processing density currently on the market making this a very cost-effective alternative to standard rack servers.
As reviewed: 7U enclosure 10 blade slots 2 x 2000W hot-swap power supplies (max 4) CMM blade with KVM 10/100 Ethernet Monitor and USB ports (max 2) 10-port Gigabit Ethernet L2 switch blade Xeon blade - 2 x 3GHz Xeon E5365 16GB 667MHz FB-DIMMs expandable to 32GB, 500GB Western Digital RE SATA hard disks in hot-swap carrier, 2 x Gigabit Ethernet.
AMD startup package option: Same enclosure configuration with 1 x AMD Opteron blade - 4 x 1.9GHz Opteron 8347 16GB 667MHz DDR2 expandable to 64GB 80GB Seagate Momentus SFF SATA hard disk 2 x Gigabit Ethernet Â£6,719 exc VAT. 3yrs on-site warranty