IBM Blade Server: Blade Center S

by December 1, 2011 0 comments



After having reviewed three Jumbo sized enterprise blades from Dell, Fujitsu, and NetWeb earlier this year, we were a little surprised at first, to receive for review such a tiny blade chassis from IBM, called the BladeCenter S. We soon realized that there’s no comparison between this and the other blades, because the BladeCenter S has been designed ground up for small and mid-sized businesses, whereas the others were meant for much larger setups.


Price: Rs 7.4 to 11.3L
Meant for: SMBs
Key Specs:6 Server blades, battery backup for SAS modules, Intel Xeon EX 4830 CPU
Pros: Inbuilt storage module, price, ease of setup
Cons: None
Contact: IBM, Bangalore
Write: with name of product in subject, for more info.


Chassis Highlights

The first thing we noticed about the BladeCenter S was that it was noticeably quieter than any other blade we’ve seen in the past, which is why it doesn’t have to be sealed inside a big rack. Instead, you can keep it in your office on a table and plug it into an ordinary 100-240 V power outlet. This makes it ideal for SMBs or even remote branch offices of large enterprises.

The enclosure of BladeCenter S is 7U high and supports up to six single or dual CPU blades (half length; or up to three 4-CPU (full length) blades. In fact, it supports both IBM POWER based as well as Intel x86 based server blades in the same chassis.

The key highlight of the BladeCenter S is its versatility. The same chassis also has slots for adding up to two Disk Storage Modules from IBM, each of which can incorporate up to six 3.5″ SAS, Nearline SAS or SATA hard drives. Each of the hard drives could be dedicated to individual blade servers, or you can configure them in a RAID array and share it across all blades.

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The chassis also houses an optional DVD multi-burner, which is accessible from all server blades. Two USB 2.0 ports are also present on the front. Another unique thing we found quite useful was a battery module, which provides power to the SAS connectivity module long enough to complete any operation left in the cache in case of power failure.

There are no physical control buttons on the chassis, but all components in the blade are dotted with LEDs for basic troubleshooting. All necessary data and troubleshooting info is provided through the management software.

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The enclosure’s rear houses four power supply modules, which are 950 W/1450 W, hot-swappable and redundant with load-balancing, auto-sensing and failover capabilities. There are four hot-swap and redundant enclosure cooling modules too. There is a server connectivity module which can be made redundant by adding another similar card to an optional empty bay. There are two redundant advanced management modules (AMM) as well which are used to control the whole enclosure along with every hardware component inside it. It can be accessed over the network using a separate IP. There are two slots for the SAS connectivity module as well for the enclosure to connect to SAS modules.

BladeCenter S is compatible with the Blade Center family of products from IBM, thus it allows for seamless growth and connectivity with other members of the IBM blade enclosure family. The new chassis also shares many of the blades and switches with the BladeCenter family.



Management interface

The IBM BladeCenter Advanced Management Module provides fundamental management and control features for the BladeCenter chassis. It provides system-management functions and keyboard/video/mouse (KVM) switching for the blade servers. It supports an external keyboard, mouse, and video connections, for use by a local console, and a 10/100 Mbps Ethernet remote management connection. Each BladeCenter chassis is powered by one AMM (primary) and there is an option of a standby redundant module too. If the active advanced management module fails, the standby advanced management module will automatically take over management functions of the chassis. The AMM is given a separate IP and is accessible through a browser based web console.

The web console of the AMM is pretty straight forward. It does not require major training to understand the usage of this console. All chassis information is provided by the web console. It provides all information related to the modules, their working and troubleshooting. Power consumption and temperature control are the critical information amongst other activities which can be performed through the web console. Certain blade related tasks like start, restart, configurations, remote control, etc can be initiated from the web console.

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About the Server Blades

The BladeCenter S we received for review came populated with 2 HX5 blade servers, which are useful for compute and memory-intensive enterprise workloads. Each server blade houses two quad core Intel Xeon E7 4830 CPUs at 2.13 GHz, and 16 GB DDR3 RAM (4x4GB). There are 16 DIMM slots per server, which can extend the RAM to 256 GB when fully populated. There are three of the possible twelve storage slots populated with 900 GB (3x 300GB) of 6Gbps SAS disks. There are two SSD slots available on the server for internal storage worth 100 GB (2x 50 GB SSD).

The HX5 is highly scalable in nature. Even the CPU, which has ideally been considered a non-scalable resource, can be scaled using the scale connector. This connector will physically connect 2 HX5 servers on the top of the servers, allowing the internal communications to extend to each other’s nodes.

There is an option of a DIMM memory blade (MAX5) which is RAM intensive and has 24 DIMM slots which can be added in one of the slots into the enclosure thereby extending the current memory. This would enable the current blade server along with the extended memory to be apt for memory intensive applications like database servers or in creation of a large number of VMs for large virtualization environments like VDI. The MAX5 blade can be connected to a particular blade using the scale connector again.

There is another feature, called Flex Node partitioning, which refers to the ability to split up a combined server node into individual server nodes and back again as needed. IBM software can be used to enable a user to automatically take a 2 node HX5 system acting as a single 4 socket system and split it up into 2×2 socket systems and then revert back to a single four socket system once the workload is completed. This is particularly helpful in a scenario wherein the server might be used as a database server during day time and at night, the system is partitioned off into 2 x 2 socket physical servers that can run their own applications.

Usage Scenarios

This is the most interesting thing about the BladeCenter S because it can cater to various requirements of a SME. In fact, the specific business requirement also determines the price of the product.

The first requirement is where you want to simply migrate your rack servers to a blade chassis. Here, you can get the BladeCenter S chassis along with 4 server blades, and pay around Rs 7.45 Lakhs for the same. This will save you some rack space in your server room, and not to mention lesser number of power and Ethernet cables. If you need redundant networking in the blade chassis itself, then you can add to it a switch, NIC card, and Hypervisor key, for an additional Rs 79K, taking the total cost up to 8.24L. This would be good for a scenario where you need redundant networking for your servers.

Another scenario you could use the BladeCenter S for is for an application server that requires dedicated storage space, e.g. a mail server with 3TB storage, or an ERP server with centralized storage connectivity. Here, you can add two Raid Controllers + 6×600 GB HDDs to the setup. This comes for around 10.5L.

Typically, in an enterprise scenario, one would connect external SAN based storage to the application, for which you’ll need fibre channel HBAs, switch, etc, which would be very pricey.

Lastly of course, is where you can use the BladeCenter S for virtualization using VMware or MS HyperV, ERP with clustering, etc. For this, you would require both storage and redundant networking. For this, the total cost would come to around 11.3L.

The Bottomline: This is one of the lowest priced blade solutions in the market. Pack that with the ease of manageability and setup, and you have a very well suited solution for a small or mid-sized enterprise.

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