While Sun Microsystems was hogging all of the press last week while it was visiting Wall Street, Hewlett Packard Co, which has two of the early pioneers of commercial blade servers (counting HP and Compaq separately), decided to create a new division dedicated solely to blade servers.
The division was not just created as a PR stunt (although the timing surely looks like it was), but reflects the reality that blade servers span multiple hardware and software units and need to be presented as a single, integrated product line to customers.
This division, called appropriately enough the BladeSystem division of the Enterprise Systems and Storage group, has Rick Becker as its vice president and general manager. HP expects to sell about $500m in blade servers in 2005, and that about half of its x86-based servers will be in the blade form factor by 2008, and given the unique opportunities and engineering challenges that blades represent, HP needs a team focused on blade servers.
In addition to announcing the formation of the BladeSystem unit, which rebrands the existing two-way ProLiant BL20p and BL30p blades and four-way ProLiant BL 40p blades as BladeSystems, Becker raised the curtain a little on the hardware plans for his new division. Specifically, he said that HP would roll out variants of these blades based on the Opteron processors by the end of 2004 or in the first quarter of 2005, called the BL25p, BL35p, and the BL45p, respectively. He confirmed that, as HP has promised in the past, it would deliver an Itanium-based blade that is capable of supporting HP-UX (and very likely Linux and Windows as well) sometime on the first half of 2005. Why it is taking so long to get a two-way Itanium blade server to market, now that the Deerfield variants of the Itanium 2 chip have been on the market for a year now, is a bit perplexing. The issue might have more to do with HP-UX or the Itanium application ecosystem than it does with hardware engineering.
In addition to announcing the BladeSystem division, Becker said that HP was rolling out the Essentials Automation Controller Pack (which is a mix of code from acquisitions and existing OpenView systems management software) that can provision blade server hardware, their operating systems, virtual LANs, and other networking features. HP also rolled out the Essentials Patch and Vulnerability Pack, which is integrated into the new System Insight Manager 4.2 (which now equally supports Windows and Linux platforms). The Patch and Vulnerability Pack is based on OpenView Radia (which is the new name for the patch programs that HP got through its acquisition of Novadigm). HP also rolled out Integrated Lights Out Manager 1.6.2, and Becker said that HP would eventually release a future program called Essentials Power Governing that will allow companies to automatically clock down the x86 processors in their machines when utilization is low, which can save them 20% on their electricity and cooling bills.
He also said that HP was working on something called the Essentials Virtual Machine Management Pack, which would integrate with SIM 4.2 and which would provide a single management front-end for virtual machines based on VMware, Microsoft, or HP (specifically, HP-UX vPar) server virtualization technologies. This software pack will be available in the first quarter of 2005, and it may be the thing that is holding back Itanium-based HP-UX blades. The company is furthermore finishing up the code on the Essentials Intelligent Networking Pack, which will deal with network bottlenecks by determining the least-clogged path between any two devices on the network and figuring out alternate paths in realtime when network congestion hits.
Finally, HP also rolled out a new BladeSystem installation startup service that has HP bring in a technician and train an administrator on how to use SIM 4.2 and set it up on a half dozen blade servers for a $1,600 fee. Additional statement of work services for more complex software installations or additional blade server installations is available at an unspecified hourly rate.