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.

IBM definitely wins for storage options as its SAS I/O modules make the BladeCenter S quite unique. HP's SB40c storage blade supports six hot-swap SAS or SATA SFF drives and has it own integral Smart Array RAID controller but it only connects to the server blade it is installed next to, effectively becoming a simple DAS solution.

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The high operational noise levels of enterprise blade servers makes them totally unsuited to the office but for the c3000 we found general noise levels with a half-populated chassis to be surprisingly low mainly due to the fact that it uses the same turbine style fans as the c-Class. We found that the BladeCenter S was far too noisy in the lab even with only two server blades up and running but IBM offers its office enablement kit to remedy this.

It comprises a rack chassis mounted on wheels that has an acoustic baffle at the back. The cabinet is 11U high enabling it to accommodate other systems up to 4U high and keep them quiet as well. If you want peace and harmony and a BladeCenter S in your office all at the same time then this kit is a must.

The BladeCenter S is designed to be easy to install and we can heartily agree. Network the AMM (advanced management module), point a browser at its default address and a wizard takes you through key functions such as setting up and securing remote management access, entering IP addresses for the switch blades and storage modules, adding email notification addresses and configuring storage zones.

The home page provides a complete overview of the chassis and installed blades and although it's not as well designed as HP's Onboard Administrator interface it does provide easy access to the chassis and installed blades. The system status page keeps you posted on the condition of all server blades, I/O interconnect modules and drives in the expansion modules and power settings for each blade can be accessed directly.

For power management AMM keeps you posted on consumption, the total available and what's left in the tank. An acoustic mode attempts to throttle a blade's processors back to keep the cooling fans within accepted noise levels. IBM's Director is its answer to HP's Systems Insight Manager and provides tools for managing IBM servers, workstations, laptops and blade servers.

Along with a wide range of features including enhanced inventory, system monitoring and software distribution Director also offers power management. Renamed from Power Executive to Active Entergy Manager, this component offers real time power monitoring of entire BladeCenter chassis and individual blades and provides power capping, which enables CPU clock speeds to be modified to reduce power consumption.

Businesses looking to implement blade server technology in the office have two straight choices - HP's BladeSystem c3000 or IBM's BladeCenter S. The c3000 is more compact and quieter and has superior server and power management facilities. The BladeCenter S offers an equally extensive range of blades and I/O interconnect options plus superior storage options but if it's going into an office then the enablement kit will be a mandatory requirement.

Verdict

A very well specified blade server that'll give HP's BladeSystem c3000 a good run for its money. Remote management and monitoring capabilities come second to HP but for storage features and expansion the BladeCenter S offers some unique options.

Chassis: 7U rack enclosure with six server blade slots and two storage module slots Power: Four hot-swap supplies Fans: Four hot-swap modules Expansion: Four I/O module bays Management: One advanced management module Other: Office enablement kit, serial pass-thru module, media tray with DVD-RW, 2 x USB Blade 1: 2 x Intel Xeon E5320 1.86GHz, 2GB 667MHz FB-DIMM memory Blade 4: 2 x Intel Xeon E5320 1.86GHz, 2GB 667MHz FB-DIMM memory Storage Expansion Modules: Each with 6 x 73GB IBM 3.5in SAS hard disks in hot-swap carriers

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