EXCLUSIVE: IBM BladeCenter S

Blade servers are too noisy and impractical to have in the the office, right? IBM wants to change your thinking with the BladeCenter S series.

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Battle was joined in 2007 between HP and IBM for a slice of the burgeoning SMB blade server market and IBM struck first by announcing its BladeCenter S back in June. However, HP countered strongly by delivering its BladeSystem c3000, or 'Shorty', first to market in October, which we took an exclusive look at in the Business section of our sister title PC Pro. We now have the much-vaunted BladeCenter S and in another exclusive review we take a closer look to see what it has over HP's c3000.

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With the BladeCenter S, IBM is primarily targeting the high growth small to medium business market and particularly those looking to consolidate and centralize their IT services. It also has its eye on large enterprises with geographically distributed locations such as branch offices and users where blade server technology has traditionally been too expensive or impractical due to size of the enclosures and operational noise levels.

Standing at 7U high the BladeCenter S is slightly taller than HP's c3000, which is a more compact 6U. Features that make this unique in the BladeCenter family are the dedicated areas for two storage blades and up to six server blades. The c3000 initially looks better on paper as it accepts four full-height or eight half-height blades or a mixture of both but the BladeCenter's storage facilities look a lot more versatile.

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In the S chassis you have two dedicated blade slots at each end that accept IBM's storage modules. These each hold up to six 3.5in SAS or SATA hot-swap hard disks and connect directly into the chassis' midplane where they are placed in zones, enabling you to dish out storage to selected server blades. There are plenty of zone options and the review system came with a default configuration, which handed three drives in each storage module to the server blades in slots one and four. Other predefined zones are available or you can create custom ones and the server's embedded LSI Logic RAID controllers see their allotted storage as local.

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Although storage blades for the smaller SFF hard disks aren't currently available IBM advised us it expects to support them later this year. Note also that the modules are not offering a shared storage solution as each drive can be mapped only to one server. The storage blades don't limit expansion potential as IBM's SAS Connectivity Modules can increase this massively. These slot into the rear expansion bays and offer four SAS ports to which you can direct attach IBM's external SAS disk arrays and external tape drives.

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