Eye on Blades Blog: Trends in Infrastructure
Get HP BladeSystem news, upcoming event information, technology trends, and product information to stay up to date with what is happening in the world of blades.

Circuit Board Rainbow

Recently I demonstrated a prototype blade to an IT admin from a large bank.  He'd worked with lots of different HP server models over the years, but a bright red color peeking out from the server blade chassis caught his eye.  I popped off the cover and showed him the motherboard.  It was coated with a glossy red solder mask that made it shine like a candy apple.

"Why is it red?" he asked.  "Doesn't red color mean hot plug?"

"Well," I answered, "Not in this case.  We do use dark red handles on stuff that's hot pluggable, like power supplies."  (By the way, our official description for the hot-pluggable color is 'port wine', not red.)

The bright red color, I explained, signified that this particular motherboard was a Proto-2, aka a second-generation prototype.  When the product went to production, the circuit boards would all be green.  Until then, the various stages of test hardware would be built in different colors.


For many years the ProLiant team has used other colors of solder mask and silkscreen during development.  (The solder mask, also called solder resist, is a paste-like substance that coats most of the outer layers of a circuit board, giving it its color.  By 'silkscreen' I mean the letters that are printed on the circuit board to reference components.)


There is no set rule, but we tend to use brighter red, orange, and yellow colors for the earliest prototypes, with darker purples, blues, and greens for later ones.

Not all silkscreen colors work well with solder mask colors.  Allen Shorter, another ProLiant engineer here at HP,  told me he learned (through experience, unfortunately) that white silkscreen on yellow solder mask makes the lettering really, really hard to read. 

There are apparently lots of theories for why green became the normal circuit board color.  (I don't buy into the theory that it's because green is the easiest color for the human eye to see -- PCBs aren't supposed to be on display.)   It's simple enough for PCB fabs to make other colors, but it's slighly more time- and cost-effective for them to stick with a single color, so for large-scale production most everyone uses green.


Yeah, but where do I insert the floppy disk?

A couple of weeks ago, lots of server admins started deploying the new HP BL460c G6 server blade.  Coincidentally, this year is the 20th anniversary of the Compaq SystemPro 386/33 -- the first "PC server" (to use the 1989 throw-back term for "x86 server").    There's a rad (another 1989 word) connection between the two

The same Compaq engineering team that built the SystemPro evolved into the HP ProLiant team that developed the BL460c.  Not only are some of the SystemPro inventors still here, but we've still got lots of the original SystemPro specs -- and it's the similarities between the first SystemPro and the BL460c G6 that will surprise you.

I liked VH1's "I Love the 80's" series, but I can't say the same for the fonts on the spare parts list for the SystemPro (ftp://ftp.compaq.com/pub/supportinformation/techpubs/qrg/systempro.pdf).   The impact of Moore's Law dominates any comparison to the newest half-height server blade, but some similarities are amazing:

  • Both are dual-processor servers using the latest Intel CPUs. 

  • Both offer up to 12 slots for memory. 

  • Both support RAID arrays of internal hard drives -- and on both, you can directly attach 8 drives. 

  • Both use Insight Manager and SmartStart software for management and deployment. 

  • Both use the term "Flex" to describe a key technology. "Flex/MP" was the designation for the SystemPro's processor and memory architecture, while  "Flex-10" names some of the networking capabilities of the BL460c G6.

Compaq SystemProOf course, the performance differences are mind-boggling.  The original SystemPro's 386 processor ran at 33Mhz, or about 1% of the BL460c G6 top CPU frequency. And back then, the 8 IDE hard drives could combine for about 2 gigabytes of storage...about a hundreth of the capacity of a single modern SAS drive.    The BL460c can also hold about 400 times as much RAM...not to mention that the blade is about a tenth the size of the SystemPro.

IT folks have lost lost some capabilities in these 20 years, of course.  If you opt for a BL460c G6 over the SystemPro, you're giving up the 2400 baud modem.  You'll also have to toss out your stacks of 360K floppy disks -- no floppy drive in the BL460c.  And without that floppy drive, how are you going to load the Token Ring network drivers?

I would post some screenshots from one of the SystemPros that's still in our lab...but I can't seem to get my CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT settings right.  Reply back if you can help me with that, or if you have similar fond memories of the industry's first PC Server.

Did we miss something?

Every time a competitor introduces a new product, we can't help but notice they suddenly get very interested in what HP is blogging during the weeks prior to their announcement.  Then when the competitor announces, the story is very self-congratulatory "we've figured out what the problem is with existing server and blade architectures".  The implication being that blades volume adoption is somehow being constrained by the very thing they have and everyone else is really stupid. 

HP BladeSystem growth has hardly been constrained; with quarterly growth rates of 60% or 80% and over a million BladeSystem servers sold.  So I have to wonder if maybe we already have figured out what many customers want - save time, power, and money in an integrated infrastructure that is easy to use, simple to implement changes, and can run nearly any workload.

Someone asked me today "will your strategy change?"  I guess given the success we've had, we'll keep focusing on the big problems of customers - time, cost, change and energy. It sounds boring, it doesn't get a lot of buzz and twitter traffic, but it's why customers are moving to blade architectures. 

Our platform was built and proven in a step-by-step approach: BladeSystem c-Class, Thermal Logic, Virtual Connect, Insight Dynamics, etc.  Rather than proclaim at each step that we've solved all the industry's problems or have sparked a social movement in computing; we'll continue to focus on doing our job to provide solutions that simply work for customers and tackle their biggest business and data center issues.

What makes a great engineer?

We are fortunate here at HP to be surrounded by the best engineers in the world.  When I ran across this presentation below, I had to share it with you.  N. Rajagopal at RDS came up with a solid list of six traits of a great engineer.

Here's a summary of the list with a blade team spin.

  1. Curiosity - Our software team stands out here.  They are always looking for a better way and questioning the status quo.  Greg on our team showed me some ideas about interfaces the other day that really turn the concept of systems management on it's head. Way cool stuff created because they wondered how it could be better.

  2. Likes to break things - Wade Vinson, HP's Fan Man turned Pod Father is my favorite 'breaker of stuff'.  Paradigms, constraints, rules - he relishes breaking stuff more than a 3 year old.  I mean that in a good way Wade.

  3. Knows how to get going - The server and infrastructure biz is all about sprinting to the next thing.  Seth Godin talked about sprinting the other day stating "When we sprint, all the internal dialogue falls away and we just go as fast as we possibly can. When you're sprinting you don't feel that sore knee and you don't worry that the ground isn't perfectly level. You just run."  I suppose a good kick in the pants from Mr. P never hurts either.

  4. Knows the art of the tradeoff - This is probably the hardest one.  Our folks HATE tradeoffs. Good ideas never die with the blade team.  They just wait for the next rev.

  5. How to think long term - Guy McSwain's team could have taken shortcuts on the power for BladeSystem c-Class for the short term, but they insisted on massive power scalability.  So far, the c7000 has taken everything that Xeon, Itanium and Opteron can throw at it. I wonder if IBM reads this . . .

  6. Never stop learning - I might add "never quit" too.  The original Compaq and HP blades were awesome learning experiences for us all.  I can promise you that even with more than 50% share of the blade market, they are still taking a lot of notes!

Enjoy the deck and share with an aspiring engineer.

What else would you add to the list?

Labels: engineers
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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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