HP BladeSystem c3000 Inverness

Blade servers have traditionally been beyond the financial means of most SMBs but HP’s BladeSystem c3000 is aimed squarely at this market sector. Codenamed ‘Shorty’, the c3000 takes everything that makes HP’s mighty c7000 great and squeezes it all into a compact 6U high chassis.

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HP BladeSystem c3000

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Blade servers have traditionally been beyond the financial means of most SMBs but HP’s BladeSystem c3000 is aimed squarely at this market sector. Codenamed ‘Shorty’, the c3000 takes everything that makes HP’s mighty c7000 great and squeezes it all into a compact 6U high chassis. Both rack mount and floor standing models are offered and in this exclusive review we take a close look at the latter.

Fortunately for us the floor standing c3000 has wheels on the chassis and the pallet it was delivered in contained a handy ramp. Be under no illusions – the c3000 is built like a tank and doesn’t weigh much less than one either. You can fit four full-height or eight half-height blades into the c3000’s enclosure and choose from all those available for the c7000.

The c3000 runs on single-phase power and the chassis starts with four 1,200W hot-plug power supplies which can be increased to six. It uses the same cooling modules as the c7000 chassis, which are based on jet engine design principals. Take a peek down the end of a fan module and you’ll see that the metal fan is shaped like a turbine. They don’t cost much to replace with a new module costing a shade over £100.

To one side, or in the base for the rack version, you have HP’s onboard administrator module, which incorporates its Insight Display. This is a nifty pop-out operator panel and LCD screen and can be used for configuration, fault analysis and checking on general system health. A chat mode enables text based conversations to be conducted between a remote manager and local support staff.

HP offers a choice selection of server blades and these include support for the latest Series 5500 Xeons. We were supplied with the new BL490c G6, which is a half-height blade that supports a pair of 5500 processors. Eighteen DIMM sockets enables the standard 6GB of DDR3 memory to be pushed up to a total of 96GB and you can use memory mirroring as well.

The high DIMM socket count means internal space is limited for storage, but HP gets round this neatly by fitting up to two SATA SSDs over the top. You can expand capacity much further by adding an SB40c storage blade in the bay below where it connects to the server blade and adds a further six SATA or SAS SFF hard disks. RAID is on the menu too although this will require an optional Smart Array P700 controller, which slots into one of the pair of mezzanine card slots.

Plenty of other mezzanine card options are available as HP offers dual-port FC, iSCSI, extra Gigabit ports or Infiniband options. Standard network connections get a boost as the new blades sport an embedded dual port 10GbE Flex-10 server adapter although to take advantage of the higher speeds you’ll need to fit a virtual connect Flex-10 10GbE module at the rear.

The latest BL460 G6 half-height server blade offers a similar specification to the BL490c G6 but drops the DIMM socket count to twelve enabling it to take a couple of hot-swap SFF hard disks at the front. These are managed by an embedded P410i RAID controller and the latest blades have virtualisation as a priority as they all have an internal SD memory card slot and USB port for loading embedded hypervisors.

HP hasn’t been idle since its acquisition of LeftHand Networks as the c3000 can also be configured to run its SAN/iQ software. The main concept behind SAN/iQ is clustering over Ethernet, which enables you to gather together multiple physical servers and present all their storage as a single pool. We have already reviewed this and were impressed enough to give it an IT PRO Editor’s Choice award.

At the rear you have four interconnect bays available and HP offers plenty of connection options as you can pick and choose from pass-through blades, Cisco copper and fibre Gigabit switch blades and Brocade and Cisco FC SAN switches. You’ll need the virtual connect modules to takes advantage of the new 10GbE offering in the latest server blades and these can be used to assign MAC addresses from a virtual pool when new blades are installed.

The level of remote management offered by the c3000 is unbeatable. The chassis, blades and all interconnect modules can be accessed directly by the Onboard Administrator browser interface. This provides wizards to help with installation and an array of graphics showing the condition of all components. It provides a system status readout showing colour coded icons for errors and faults along with details on chassis power consumption and available power.

Pick any server blade and you can go directly to the browser interface provided by its embedded iLO2 chip. This provides full remote control over all system operations including power and also offers tools for monitoring the controller or server and viewing installed components.

For more in-depth management you can use HP’s Insight Control Suite, which includes the Systems Insight Manager tools. These provide enhanced browser-based remote management and monitoring and can remotely access server blades with an Insight agent installed.

The only competition to ‘Shorty’ comes from IBM’s BladeCenter S, which targets precisely the same market. At 7U high it claims a greater expansion potential and higher storage capacities, but it’s incredibly noisy, so if you want this in your office you’ll need IBM’s massive office enablement kit.

We found the c3000 much friendlier during testing as even with all six fans installed it was surprisingly quiet. We also prefer its more compact dimensions and superior build quality plus HP’s management facilities really are standard setters.

Author: Dave Mitchell

HP BladeSystem c3000 review: blade server