Eye on Blades Blog: Trends in Infrastructure
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Displaying articles for: October 2009

Three Opinions (But One Counts More)

I saw three new opinions about BladeSystem last week. 

First, PC World Latin America announced that the HP BL490c G6 virtualization blade won in the "Best Server" category of the annual PC World Latin America 2009 Awards.  These awards honor the "best digital & IT products available in Latin America", and I'm proud to see this virtualization-oriented blade got recognized.   (HP's been active in Latin America for a long time --  back in 1968, HP helped in the broadcasting of the Mexico City Olympic Games.)

A second opinion came from a market research company.  This one caught my attention when Cisco's Omar Sultan pointed out that Gartner had placed Cisco in the "Visionary" area of Gartner's Magic Quarter for blades, a section also occupied by Liquid Computing.  Omar says that category holds companies with of keen insights into blade usage, but as one comment points out, little track record for delivering on that vision.

That led me to the Quadrant itself,  where it looks like HP has been placed in the "Leaders" quadrant.  I’d agree with that – it signifies solid vision, along with the ability to deliver on that vision.  Obviously one criteria for demonstrated leadership is a satisfied base of users, which points me the third (and most revealing) opinion I saw last week.

Bytemark Hosting, a web hosting provider that calls itself the "nerd-hosting outfit of choice", let HP write a case study about their infrastructure based on BladeSystem.  It uses virtualization blades (specifically the ProLiant BL495c), HP Virtual Connect Flex-10, and carvable storage from the SAS-connected HP StorageWorks MSA2000.

But the slots-and-watts of what the guys put together what stood out to me.  It's what Bytemark's Peter Taphouse said about the impact of the system.  He said  BladeSystem’s improved uptime can actually boost the company’s revenue (by as much as 5%), because it delivers an SLA that lets Bytemark reach a new, untapped set of customers.

Now THAT'S an opinion on BladeSystem that's truly eye-opening.  It's not that BladeSystem earns awards, or that it helps guide data centers toward the future.   It’s that BladeSystem users say it doesn’t just cut costs, but it can also expand the reach of your business.


Oracle Open World 2009 Blogger Meetup

Everything you ever wanted to know about a blogger meet up. This one was hosted by Oracle and HP during Oracle Open World. Turn out was pretty good with a lot of good opportunities to meet people face-to-face and exchange ideas

Oracle Open World 2009 Italian Ministry of Education and Research ROI

HP's Luc Vogeleer CTO Application Modernization of  Enterprise Business presenting a case study the Italian Ministry of Education and Research - 18 months return on investment

Oracle Open World Italian Ministry of Education

Oracle Open World 2009 – Check out the HP Booth #1301

If you did not get an opportunity to visit Oracle Open World 2009, check out the interviews below that provide quick summaries of activities within the HP booth

Guided tour at the HP booth 1301 part 1 with Steve

Guided tour at the HP booth 1301 part 2 with Steve

Kim Vayda talking about Oracle Alliance

ProCurve Lifetime Warranty

HP Enterprise Services Oracle ERP assessment

HP Skyroom Demo with Walker Dollahon

Trace Mitchell showcasing HP's Integrity Blade Servers

HP's SMB Solutions for Oracle Customers with Jay Workman

HP Z600 Workstation with Walker Dollahon

Latest G6 Servers at the HP booth Norman Morales

DCE = Deprecated

If I'm interpreting the comments from Bob Nusbaum correctly, then Cisco has decided to stop using the term "DCE" (Data Center Ethernet), and will use the terms "CEE" or "DCB" going forward.

That's a good move.  As they are generally used, DCE, CEE, and DCB all refer essentially to the same stuff.  Our acroynm-translation lists will get a little shorter, and there will be fewer arguments about the technical distinctions between them.

DCB (Data Center Bridging) has the most well-defined meaning.  It represents a set of standards that an IEEE task group is developing that, among other things, helps govern multiple traffic types running over an 802 network.

CEE (Converged Enhanced Ethernet), most famous for being part of the recipe that allows FCoE, refers to DCB done over Ethernet.  The term CEE was once trademarked by IBM (but no longer is).

DCE (Data Center Ethernet) was Cisco's trademarked term for CEE. Bob Nusbaum (of Cisco) says the term was causing confusion.

Labels: FCoE| IEEE| networking

What does it take to deliver mission-critical solutions?

As we have been discussing, requirements for mission-critical capabilities can be found everywhere.   So, just how does one go about building an offering that can meet mission-critical status?   Let's look at an example I think most of us can understand.  

A car for the average consumer requires components that deliver the right balance of performance (but only up to the legal limit, of course) and reliability (starts every time and gets you where you need to go safely) all for a cost that the average consumer will pay.   Now, if you look at what is needed for a Formula One race car, that's a different level of performance and reliability and cost all together!  The race car needs to handle and sustain speeds averaging above 200MPH and reach over 18,000 RPMs - not only on a straight-away, but around hairpin turns!  Very different requirements for the components in this car must be met - carbon fibre composite chassis, treadles tires, airfoils ... things you don't find in your average street car.   All the components in the race car must enable it to perform predictably under extreme circumstances.

So, back to the computing world ... what does it take to deliver those mission-critical solutions like 911 emergency support, stock trading, etc.    Just as all the components in a race car make it go reliably fast,so too a mission-critical infrastructure is needed to ensure applications are always available when needed.  So, what are all these critical pieces of the infrastructure that need to work together to ensure an application is always available?  

Let's start with the operating system.   If your system supports email or web applications, you may not need the same levels of reliability or predictability that you would require if your system was running thousands of financial transactions per second.   A key feature of the operating environment is virtualization.  Virtualization software can maximize the utilization of the system.  For example, HP-UX virtualization can automatically pool and share resources ensuring optimal utilization and productivity so the system handles all peaks in demand without any changes in service to the consumers of the application service.   The HP-UX Virtualization Manager (vMAN) provides a single console to view and manage both the physical and virtual components of the system simplifying the task of keeping the system healthy and meeting the demands of the users.  The HP-UX Capacity Advisor can let you see future computing requirements based on past usage and planned growth ensuring you have the capacity in your server or data center when you need it, without interruption.  

Of course, there are times when repairs are needed and planned for an then the ones that surprise you.   Infrastructure and servers are the same.   High-availability solutions such as clustering come in to plan to keep services available even when the underlying infrastructure has failed or needs maintenance services.  Applications like HP ServiceGuard can help minimize the downtime for maintenance as well as mask infrastructure failures from users.  Also, critical are support services.  Let's face it, computing environments are complicated.   Having access to support services experts is critical to designing, implementing and maintaining a mission-critical infrastructure.

Now we come to the foundation of the infrastructure: the server itself.   Software and services are key to building a mission-critical infrastructure.   But, the hardware, the server is an equally important component.  Whether we are talking traditional rack-mount servers or high-end cell-based servers or blades, the Integrity server platform is has the resiliency, flexibility and efficiency to meet even the highest levels of availability and predictability.  At the heart of the server, we have the processor.   For Integrity servers, the multi-generation Intel® Itanium® processor platform delivers the right combination of performance and resiliency to run mission-critical applications.  

Speaking of the processor, last week I was at the Itanium Solutions Alliance Innovation Awards ceremony.  We had 10 finalists who have used Integrity servers in some very creative ways that benefit their business.  Check out the press release.  Here are some highlights about the winners and the interesting things they are doing supported by their mission-critical infrastructure.

Congratulations to our winners Mobiltel, Bernalillo County, New Mexico, CESGA, the Supercomputing Center of Galicia, Spain and Kiwok. I'll be posting video clips from this event in an upcoming blog.


BladeSystem Firmware Management

Here's a new BladeSystem best-practices whitepaper on the topic of firmware: HP BladeSystem ProLiant firmware management best practices

It talks about different scenarios for firmware maintenance (like local vs. remote, online vs. offline), and goes over doing whole-enclosure as well as single-component updates.

Some of the highlights:

  • Always align firmware versions with one of the columns of the HP BladeSystem Compatibility Chart (click on the "Compatibility" tab).

  • Bare-metal deployment should use the HP BladeSystem Firmware Deployment Tool – Offline for unattended installation and HP Firmware Maintenance CD for attended installations.

  • Updates to existing servers should use the HP BladeSystem Firmware Update Bundles for Windows and Linux.

  • Most firmware can be updated with individual smart components, but the recommended deployment tool is HP System Update Manager (HP SUM), which includes a discovery engine and dependancy checkers.

Labels: BladeSystem

Harnessing Horsepower: Cores, Capacity, and Code

Last week at IDF, two Intel technologists spoke about different fixes to the problem of compute capacity outpacing the typical server's ability to handle it.
For the past 5 years, x86 CPU makers have boosted performance by adding more cores within the processor.  That's enabled servers with ever-increasing CPU horsepower.   RK Hiremane (speaking on "I/O Innovations for the Enterprise Cloud") says that that I/O subsystems haven't kept pace with this processor capacity, moving the bottleneck for most applications from the CPU to the network and storage subsystems.

He gives the example of virtualized workloads.  Quad-core processors can support the compute demands for a bunch of virtual machines.  However, the typical server I/O subsystem (based on 1Gb Ethernet and SAS hard drives) gets overburdened by the I/O demand of all those virtual machines.  He predicts an immindent evolution (or revolution) in server I/O to fix this problem.

Among other things, he suggests solid-state drives (SSDs) and 10 gigabit Ethernet will be elements of that (r)evolution.  So will new virtualization techniques for network devices.   (BTW, some of the changes he predicts are already being adopted on ProLiant server blades, like embedded 10GbE controllers with "carvable" Flex-10 NICs.   Others, like solid-state drives, are now being widely adopted by many server makers.)

Hold on, said Anwar Ghuloum.  The revolution that's needed is actually in programming, not hardware.   There are still processor bottlenecks holding back performance; they stem from not making the shift in software to parallelism that x86 multi-core requires.

He cites five challenges to mastering parallel programming for x86 multi-core:
* Learning Curve (programmer skill sets)
* Readability (ability for one programmer to read & maintain other programmer's parallel code)
* Correctness (ability to prove a parallel algorithm generates the right results)
* Scalability (ability to scale beyond 2 and 4 cores to 16+)
* Portability (ability to run code on multiple processor families)

Anwar showed off one upcoming C++ library called Ct from RapidMind (now part of Intel) that's being built to help programmers solve these challenges.  (Intel has a Beta program for this software, if you're interested.)

To me, it's obvious that the "solution" is a mix of both.  Server I/O subsystems must (and are) improving, and ISVs are getting better at porting applications to scale with core count.

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About the Author(s)
  • More than 25 years in the IT industry developing and managing marketing programs. Focused in emerging technologies like Virtualization, cloud and big data.
  • I am a member of the Enterprise Group Global Marketing team blogging on topics of interest for HP Servers. Check out blog posts on all four Server blog sites-Reality Check, The Eye on Blades, Mission Critical Computing and Hyperscale Computing- for exciting news on the future of compute.
  • I work within EMEA HP Servers Central Team as a launch manager for new products and general communications manager for EMEA HP Server specific information. I also tweet @ServerSavvyElla
  • HP Servers, Converged Infrastructure, Converged Systems and ExpertOne
  • WW responsibility for development of ROI and TCO tools for the entire ISS portfolio. Technical expertise with a financial spin to help IT show the business value of their projects.
  • I am a member of the HP BladeSystem Portfolio Marketing team, so my posts will focus on all things blades and blade infrastructure. Enjoy!
  • Luke Oda is a member of the HP's BCS Marketing team. With a primary focus on marketing programs that support HP's BCS portfolio. His interests include all things mission-critical and the continuing innovation that HP demonstrates across the globe.
  • Global Marketing Manager with 15 years experience in the high-tech industry.
  • 20 years of marketing experience in semiconductors, networking and servers. Focused on HP BladeSystem networking supporting Virtual Connect, interconnects and network adapters.
  • Working with HP BladeSystem.
  • Greetings! I am on the HP Enterprise Group marketing team. Topics I am interested in include Converged Infrastructure, Converged Systems and Management, and HP BladeSystem.
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