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HP develops SAS-based storage blade

HP is working on a SAS-based storage blade for its blade server product that will ship by year's end. Check out the benefits and limitations of this approach.

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Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) is developing a SAS-based storage blade for its BladeSystem product that will ship later this year to provide users with an all-in-one, scalable system for compute, networking and storage needs.

HP has already partnered with Brocade Communications Systems Inc. to embed the company's 4 Gbps Fibre Channel (FC) switch into BladeSystem. Similarly, in March 2005, IBM announced plans to embed a FC switch module from McData Corp. in its eSeries BladeCenter server. So far, no one has announced plans to embed storage into blade servers until HP let the cat out of the bag this week.

Amid news that it will support SAS drives in five of its ProLiant servers (the DL 385, DL 360, DL580, ML 370, ML 570), HP also announced its first SAS-based DAS box, the MSA 50. This is a 1U, 10-drive system that can be daisy chained together in a pair. SAS drives come in two capacities today -- 36 GB or 72 GB at 10,000 RPM -- giving the box a maximum capacity of just under 1 terabyte for $1,899.

On the topic of supporting SAS, HP revealed that SAS small form factor (SFF) drives are ideally suited to its BladeSystem product. "They provide exponentially better performance than Ultra 320 SCSI drives -- as they are smaller so you can pack more in an enclosure and they are cooler, and take less power," said Paul Perez, vice president of storage networking infrastructure in HP's server group. With the trend toward servers with dual-core processors, he said it's vital to keep the system cool. "The power draw from dual cores creates more heat so SFF drives can help alleviate this problem," he said.

By providing local, shared volumes inside the blades, Perez said users will be able to scale their storage resources much more easily by simply plugging in another blade. Diskless booting will also be possible as the storage is more tightly integrated with the blade. HP was unwilling to give specifics on product delivery details or specifications, but said it plans to ship the SAS blades by year's end.

Alex Gorbansky, senior analyst with the Taneja Group, said that the challenge with blade systems is extending them into the enterprise. "They have been effective for low-end Web serving applications, but to get into supporting databases and other tier one applications, they need a storage capability in the blade and connectivity to external storage," he said. Gorbansky added that HP is aiming to bring the same capability of regular high-end servers to its BladeSystem, but noted that collapsing hundreds of servers reliably will still require a networked storage approach.

IDC reported last month that 6.5% of the x86 units HP shipped in the first quarter of 2005 were blade servers, which equaled 7.4% of the company's revenue on a worldwide basis. While still just 3.4% of the world's $12.1 billion total quarterly server revenue, blade servers are well ahead of the market's 5.3% growth rate, IDC reports.

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