Review: HP c3000 BladeSystem enclosure

Well designed for SMBs -- but beware the noise

There has been a dearth of conveniently packaged servers for the midsize market. HP decided to try to change that with the introduction of the HP BladeSystem c3000. I recently tested a well-equipped unit, and overall, my impressions are positive.

The unit is designed especially for small and medium-size businesses. It's particularly geared for scenarios where there is a need for multiple servers based on workloads and number of users but where there isn't always a special room for servers with data center-quality power and server isolation. While I tested the tower enclosure, a rack-mountable version is available if an industry-standard rack is present at the location. Between four and eight storage and server blades can fit into the unit, depending on the individual blade choices and their respective heights, and the server doesn't require any special power or plugs to be run. It plugs into a standard U.S. wall socket, is rated to an environment of 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 degrees Fahrenheit), and is designed to use that power efficiently and reduce cooling needs in the immediately surrounding environment.

Of course, the bane of small computers is the assorted cavalcade of cables that come along with them. Here, that's been solved -- other than power and network cables, everything else is internal. Storage expansion and data protection is completely internal should you choose to use the blade editions of those solutions -- there is bladed tape, bladed DAS, bladed NAS and bladed SAN available.

The enclosure itself is redundant throughout its core. It has a built-in nonstop midplane and, configured appropriately with the necessary options, you can make the network connection, power supply, cooling fans, storage units and blade servers themselves completely redundant. This makes for an extremely fault-tolerant solution, which is good, as this enclosure is targeted at midsize businesses that are likely to stake their entire IT infrastructures on this unit and its contents.

Finally, HP has made the unit's use and management simple. You can interact with any of the blades in this enclosure by using a standard keyboard, mouse and monitor via a KVM cable that plugs into the front of each blade. You can also use a KVM device to interact with all of the blades from a single console, or use the available management option to perform some console-based tasks through a Web browser. There is also a DVD drive that can be shared among any of the blades using the Onboard Administrator LCD display, making it a simple matter to install software on any of the blades or other devices you have plugged into the enclosure.

My tests

My test unit consisted of three BL260c G5 servers, configured as you see in the table below, ensconced in the c3000 tower enclosure that's nicknamed "Big Tony." (The rack version of the enclosure is referred to affectionately by HP folks as "Shorty.")

HP's BL260c G5 blade enclosure

Processor Up to two Quad-Core, Dual-Core, or Single-Core Intel Xeon processors or Intel DT processors
Memory DDR2 (667MHz), 6 DIMM Sockets, 24GB max (with 4GB DIMMs)
Internal storage 2 Non Hot-Plug SFF SATA HDDs with software SATA RAID
Networking 1Gb Ethernet Standard NICs; 2-ports with Broadcom 5715s; and support for additional NICs via mezzanine card
Mezzanine Slots 1 PCIe mezzanine expansion slot - X8, type 2 and x4 PCIe support for Side Car expansion
Management Integrated Lights Out 2, Standard Blade Edition
Density 16 server blades in 10U enclosure
Source: Hewlett-Packard Co.

The unit came preinstalled with the first release candidate edition of Windows Essential Business Server 2008, a three-server suite I have reviewed previously.

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