Nexcom NexBlade HS416 review

Price when reviewed

IBM may be claiming complete dominance in the worldwide blade server market, but there’s at last a slow yet steady trickle of products coming out of the Far East that, on the surface, appear to offer some very interesting and cost-effective alternatives to the mighty eServer BladeCentre. As supplied by Evesham, we’ve been impressed with Tatung’s TUD-3114 and TUD-4010, but Nexcom’s NexBlade HS416 steals a march on the competition by supporting both Intel Xeon and AMD Opteron processors in the same chassis.

Nexcom NexBlade HS416 review

The 4U chassis is sturdy and supports eight hot-swap dual-processor server blades for a density of 160 processors per industry-standard rack. The chassis impresses with a good range of options while power fault-tolerance is quite remarkable, as the Nexcom supports no less than seven hot-swap supplies serviced by three power sockets. A single management blade is provided for remote access and comes with RJ-45 ports for serial and network links. KVM ports are supplied for local access to all server blades. Multiple chassis can be stacked together and managed with a single mouse, keyboard and monitor, as the KVM ports can be daisy-chained together.

A range of network blades are on offer with a basic 8-port Feedthru module connecting directly to one gigabit Ethernet port on each server blade. With a pair of these installed you can then route each server blade through to different subnets. Gigabit switch blades are also available and these come with pairs of dual-personality copper and SFP fibre ports, plus a COM port for management access. An unusual feature is the pair of 10-gigabit ports allowing up to 32 switch blades to be linked together. Basic Fast Ethernet switch and Feedthru blades are also available. With four chassis slots up for grabs there are a fair few network scenarios that can be supported. However, only the gigabit switches offer support for features such as VLANs, 802.1p CoS and port mirroring.

Nexcom’s server blades are nicely put together and protected inside a solid aluminium shell with plenty of status LEDs provided on the front panel. The Intel blades have the dual Xeon processors mounted towards the front and accompanied by a bank of three small cooling fans. Two DIMM sockets have been squeezed in down one side and the review samples had 2GB of PC2100 memory installed. A mounting plate at the rear holds the single 2.5in 40GB ATA/100 hard disk and has enough clearance for a second to be slotted in beneath it, although no hardware RAID features are provided.

A single PCI-X slot has a horizontal riser card fitted, but this is of limited value as it’s at the rear of the blade, so I/O ports can’t be accessed. General network connections are good, as each blade has a pair of Broadcom gigabit Ethernet ports routed through to the chassis backplane, while a separate Fast Ethernet port links up with the management blade. A proprietary KVM port at the front is used to control individual blades locally and includes a USB port for connecting CD-ROM or floppy drives. The Opteron blades are completely different as the processors are mounted at the rear and flanked by two pairs of DIMM sockets. Cooling is equally well handled, and the same hard disk choices are in evidence. Expansion options are good, as the PCI-X slot is located at the front and a cut-out in the main panel means any ports on the expansion card can be easily accessed. Along with the pair of gigabit ports, all blades have a separate 10/100BaseTX port that links up with the management blade allowing this traffic to be confined to a separate network.

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