HP sharpens its blade's cutting edge

En garde...
Written by Stephen Shankland, Contributor

En garde...

HP is to upgrade its ProLiant BL10e blade server with a 1GHz Pentium M - a processor code-named Banias that should boost performance over the current 900MHz ultra-low-voltage Pentium III used in the current product. The Pentium M comes with 1MB of high-speed cache memory rather than the 512KB in the Pentium III and supports faster double data rate (DDR) memory. Sally Stevens, director of blade servers for HP's Industry Standard Server group, said: "There's a nice opportunity for enhanced performance." Keeping momentum in the Intel server market is crucial for HP, which acquired Compaq Computer in 2002, in part for the ProLiant line. HP had the biggest fraction of the $16.4bn market for servers using Intel or Intel-compatible processors in 2002, but IBM and Dell Computer are gaining, and even Intel-phobic Sun Microsystems has entered the fray with its own Intel servers. In addition, by the end of April, HP will ship an upgraded dual-processor blade, the BL20p, that includes 3.06GHz Xeon processors instead of the 2.8GHz currently used, Stevens said. The new processor includes a 533MHz front-side bus - the connection between the chip and its memory - compared with the 400MHz predecessor. The new BL10e harkens back to the earliest days of blade servers. Those first systems, pioneered by start-ups such as RLX Technologies, used technology lifted from laptops to keep power consumption low so servers can be packed densely without overheating. Illuminata analyst Jonathan Eunice said: "This is the low-power-consumption, high-density blade idea redux." Those first models were spawned in an era when spending was flush for internet infrastructure such as the low-end servers that host websites. Adjusting to curtailed corporate computing spending for such products, IBM, Dell and HP shifted plans to blades that pack more punch with two and in some cases four of the more powerful Xeon processors. Even RLX now has introduced dual-Xeon blades. Sun, which specialises in Unix servers, is taking a different approach. Its first blades will house one of Sun's UltraSparc processors. Later models will use Athlon chips from Advanced Micro Devices and possibly other Intel-compatible processors, with dual-processor models planned for both chip families. The new Banias blade from HP won't outperform Xeon machines, but it likely will outrun the single-processor competition, Eunice said. He said: "Consider what it's competing against - other Pentium III designs, the even more modestly powered Transmeta Crusoe, or Sun blades running at just 650MHz. Though it's not going to impress going up against the heavyweight multiprocessor Xeon blades, Pentium M fits pretty nicely among the blade crowd."
Editorial standards