Home > Hardware refresh > Battle of the Blades – Part I

Battle of the Blades – Part I

Please read https://itvirtuality.wordpress.com/2010/04/01/the-hardware-refresh-cycle/ first.

So how does one go about choosing a blade system?   I don’t have an answer for you.  I can tell you what we did, but it may not be the proper methodology for your organization.

When all is said and done, most blade systems appear nearly identical.  After all, what is a blade server?  It’s a rack mount turned vertical.  Yes, there is more to them but that is the essence of it.   If you are 100% satisfied with your incumbent provider and they meet your needs,  then stick with them.    Or you can do what we did and take the opportunity to envision what your ideal data center environment would look like and try to find the provider that comes closest to that vision.

Now I am not going to pull one over on you and say that we knew what our ideal data center would look like from day one.  We didn’t.  Our vision evolved as we reviewed the various offering from the tier 1 vendors.  Our vision evolved as we learned the strategic plans of our various business units.  Our vision evolved as ….  Yes, our vision is ever changing.  My team and I will never 100% know where our organization is going since we work in an ever changing world.   So what did we do?  We courted multiple providers.

Yes, you read correctly.  We came up with a basic configuration based on the Capacity Planner analysis (and other factors) and then asked multiple vendors to provide a Bill of Materials (BOM).  Then we sent the BOMs to various resellers for pricing.   The main reason we did was to have all our paperwork ready for our purchasing department to take to the City Council for approval once we made a decision on product.  Getting all our ducks in a row takes time so even though we didn’t have a final choice of product, we could at least keep the process moving along.   Besides, getting the BOM and pricing helped us develop a five-year cost model.   Unless you are funded extremely well, price has to play a factor in the decision-making.   The best product in the world is not going to find a spot in my data center if it is ten times more expensive than everyone else and does not make me ten time more productive, reduce other costs by 10x, etc..

While all this was taking place, we finally reached a point where we could articulate our data center vision and defend it.  It’s one thing to say we want to reduce power consumption, reduce our data center footprint, blah, blah, blah.  Everyone says that and all providers can meet those requirements.   These  bullet points were not going to help us decide on a product.   Besides addressing the various strategic initiatives, we needed to address what causes my team the most pain:  cabling and ease of hardware management.

Just for giggles, go do a Google image search on the phrase “a network cable is unplugged”.  While our data center was nowhere near as bad as that one, we do have some cable management nightmares.  When a rack is put in, everything is nice and neat.   In a dynamic data center, the cabling  becomes a nightmare one cable at a time.  If I had to come up with a movie title for it it would probably be: “Adds, moves, and changes:  The bane of the data center.”

Ease of hardware management was our second greatest pain.  We currently use HP servers so our primary server management tool is Systems Insight Manager (SIM).  SIM isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either.  It’s offers a fair amount of functionality for the price (free with server purchase).   However, it has some niggling quirks which drive us crazy.  For starters, it uses reverse DNS lookups to determine system name.  What happens if a server has fourteen aliases?  Thirteen are marked as down.  Instead of querying the host’s primary name, it picks up whatever DNS spits out at the time of the reverse lookup.    Sort of makes alerting/alarming harder than it has to be.

Of course, all this assumes it can discover every server.  We’ve had times when a server had to manually entered into SIM and still couldn’t be seen.

The final issue we have with SIM is its interface.  It’s just not as friendly as it could be.  To give you an idea what I am talking about… There are some blogs out there that seem to think that the HP BladeSystem Matrix management console can only manage 250 servers.  The real answer is that it can manage over 1300 servers.  The 250 number comes from the HP system engineers due to SIM’s interface.  SIM just doesn’t visually handle large numbers of objects very well.

That’s it for this entry.  My next post will cover some strategic initiatives and how they factored into our product choice.

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  1. April 12, 2010 at 8:50 am

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