SAN FRANCISCO -- As one of the first firms to embrace bladed computer designs, Hewlett-Packard is now enjoying the benefits of being an early proponent. It commands almost half of the market share for blades, a fast-growing sector in an otherwise struggling server market.
Blades are growing market and an important part of the triumvirate of unified computing, which combines compute, server and storage technology into one tightly integrated system.
With a new networking group being built around previous HP offerings and the newly-acquired 3Com, HP plans to beef up its network offerings in its converged systems.
"The role of the network is to connect a converged infrastructure to the enterprise network," said Lin Nease, director of emerging technologies for HP's networking group, in a briefing here on HP's blade strategy. "One of the key differences in networking is the concept of how management occurs in the enterprise. Network management has not reached the source provider world."
HP plans to integrate 3Com's Intelligent Management Center into its FlexFabric management software to better manage systems from a central location and with a top-down view. He gave no roadmap as to when it will occur, only that it was part of HP's future plans.
Management is one of the key appeals of blades. They are smaller than a rack-mounted server, so more computing power can be squeezed into the same amount of physical space. Provisioning the server is quicker because it's done at the chassis level, which can hold a dozen blades, instead of provisioning each individual server.
"There's this issue of sprawl people are talking about in their data centers," said Gary Thome, vice president of strategy and architecture for HP infrastructure software and blades. "We're seeing customers move from a handful of servers to thousands of servers. Think about what it takes to manage a thousand servers. How do I cool them? How do I cable them up? If one breaks, where is it?"
And because the back end of the blade chassis handles the connections for all the blades, it means a lot fewer cables. Rack-mounted servers require wiring for each rack. All of the blades in a chassis use one connection for network and storage connectivity.
These benefits, especially in scale, can add up quickly.
Troy McKaskle, CTO of Symantec's services group, said that between cabling, switching gear and other backplane hardware as well as the additional requirement of built-in redundancy in case of failure, rack-mounted servers were costing the company up to $100,000 per server, savings that were realized on moving to blades.
Symantec had other headaches with rack-mounted servers. The amount of time to provision network and storage was too much. The company wanted to cut that time in half. Instead, it went from taking six weeks to provision a server to five days. Service response times went from 60 days to the same day.
Blades were the one sector of the server market to grow in 2009, up a scant 1.5 percent over 2008 levels, according to IDC, but that's better than the negative numbers put up by other servers. Servers are only expected to grow about 2.6 percent on a compound annual basis over the next five years while blade servers will rise about 38 percent over the same period, according to Jed Scaramella, senior server research analyst at IDC.
The growth in blades has gone hand-in-hand with the move to virtualization. Scaramella noted that consolidation has been the driving force behind the move to blades, and they are sold as systems for virtualization. IDC found 38 percent of IT managers surveyed have virtualized their blades, a much higher rate than average for non-bladed systems.
IDC also found the more blades make up a firm's IT infrastructure, the more they are virtualized. In a data center where more than 50 percent of the servers are blades, more than half of the servers are virtualized. "So the more people buy into one, they buy into the other," said Scaramella.