HP hones blade management

Virtual Connect Enterprise Manager breaks the chains between servers and networks, freeing HP shops to swap blades with ease

To paraphrase a sentence often attributed to Mark Twain, everybody talks about the cost of managing storage, but nobody does anything about it.

Well, almost nobody, because a new management application that HP announced last month, VCEM (Virtual Connect Enterprise Manager), could reduce network and storage administration costs significantly.

It's only fair to point out that VCEM is a proprietary solution that works only on HP BladeSystems c3000 and c7000, which limits its scope. But it is a solution worth exploring, given that the expected benefits could outweigh those limitations. More to the point, VCEM does something to reduce the cost of managing storage, as well as the cost of managing a LAN.

Here's how. VCEM extends the capabilities of another jewel in the HP crown, Virtual Connect. Announced earlier this year, VC is an architecture that simplifies managing SAN and LAN connections on blade systems.

In essence, VC creates an abstraction layer between blade servers and storage and data networks to reduce the constraints posed on server mobility by identifiers such as the MAC (media access control) address for network cards and the WWN (World Wide Name) for FC HBAs.

In plain English, when using VC, you don't expose the hardwired MAC address or WWN to the world outside the blade system; instead, you use proxy identifiers that do not change even when the underlying hardware changes.

As a consequence, maintenance tasks -- for example, replacing a malfunctioning HBA -- can be solved inside the blade system, without affecting the configuration of FC switches. This, of course, means shorter, less expensive change management activities. A similar case can be made for replacing a NIC, for example.

Another upside of the VC architecture is the ability to create dynamic server profiles that can be quickly moved to a different blade slot. This enables you to assign a more powerful machine to an application, for example, without changing any storage or network configuration outside of the blade chassis, nor the wiring.

To use VC, however, you need additional blades for FC and Ethernet connectivity, which, depending on the configuration, cost between US$6,000 and US$10,000 per module. That said, there is no software license to pay.

Another caveat is that VC works only within a single blade system. And here's where VCEM comes in, extending VC capabilities across multiple blade systems and -- with the proper connections in place -- across different locations, according to HP.

The demo I saw showed that moving a server profile to a different chassis can be done in seconds, although that doesn't include the time for related tasks, including moving applications and data to the new server.

Interestingly, VCEM offers the tools to group blade systems that have similar network requirements -- for example, those connected to the same SAN and the same LAN -- in consistent domains. With that in mind, moving a server to a new chassis in the same domain does not require changing any cable connections and can be performed as easily as an intra-chassis move.

VCEM has the same hardware prerequisites VC does, but the software license costs US$4,500 for a c3000 blade system and US$9,000 for a c7000 blade system, which, when added to the cost of the VC modules, is not a small premium to pay.

However, that cost could be justified in terms of easier management and faster turnaround time for configuration changes. Regardless, the best way to decide whether VCEM is worth your while is to find out what triggers more frequent changes to the storage and network infrastructure.

My bet is on server change management.

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