Boston Blade AI1000 review

Price when reviewed

Blade servers were introduced some five years ago, and since then the market has settled into an exclusive little club. The two main players, HP and IBM, could be forgiven for thinking they have it all to themselves, but Supermicro aims to vigorously shake the tree. In this exclusive review, we bring you a first look at its new SuperBlade.

Boston Blade AI1000 review

Supplied by key distributor Boston, this system makes a big play on price. Supermicro previously didn’t believe blade servers represented good value as a replacement for standard rack servers, but it now feels the time is right, and the price here confirms it. The AI1000 also punches everyone else’s lights out for sheer processing density: it’s the first blade server to market that supports AMD’s quad-core Opterons, allowing the system to deliver an incredible 960 cores in an industry- standard 42U rack.

At its foundation is a 7U chassis with room for up to ten hot-swap server blades. It’s 2U smaller than HP’s BladeSystem c-Class, but offers a larger blade slot count, while IBM’s venerable BladeCenter H stands at 9U and has room for 14 server blades. Build quality is good, but note that Supermicro’s cooling methods require the power supplies to handle this function as well. The minimum configuration requires two supplies, while a fully populated chassis needs all four, with one on standby. A big drawback is the sheer noise level, since the fans scream continuously. However, Supermicro claims the power supplies are high-efficiency models. Furthermore, you can choose from 1,400W, 2,000W or 2,500W versions, with the latter aimed at supporting future Xeon MP blades.

At the rear are six expansion slots; two chassis management modules (CMMs) can be installed for redundancy. Network connectivity options are more modest, with the chassis supporting passthrough, Layer 2 gigabit switch and InfiniBand blades. HP offers Brocade fibre channel and Cisco fibre and copper gigabit switches. Supermicro’s gigabit switches have ten internal and ten external ports, and the primary switch links to the first port on each blade. Adding a secondary switch brings each blade’s second network port into action. 10GbE is on the cards but, as with the InfiniBand module, you’ll need to add an optional mezzanine card on each server blade. The server blades also present two PCI-E 8x buses to the mid-plane, and Supermicro may plan at some stage to offer modules that allow PCI-E cards to be installed.

You have two choices of server blade, with Xeon dual- and quad-core CPUs or AMD’s new quad cores. The Xeon version supports a pair of 3.5in hot-swap SATA hard disks that can be striped or mirrored, and there’s also a Xeon blade with six 2.5in hard disks in hot-swap carriers, bringing RAID5 into the frame. Boston also gave us an early look at the new AMD quad-socket blade, with the review sample equipped with a quartet of 1.9GHz 8347 Opteron processors. To fit the extra sockets, the blade uses a design whereby storage is handled by two internal 2.5in SATA hard disks.

Installation and deployment proved simple, as each blade can be accessed locally or remotely over KVM. The CMM is accessed via its web interface, which provides excellent levels of access to the chassis, server blades and interconnect modules. You can designate local devices on the management station as virtual boot devices, and remote control comes as standard. For a deeper insight, there’s Supermicro’s IPMI View 2 software. After discovering the CMM, it opens with a tidy graphic showing installed blades with their status indicators and whether they’re being accessed via KVM. A graphic of the chassis shows the resident power supplies, CMMs and expansion modules, and you can see each supply’s fan speeds and temperature status. Supermicro has left software deployment alone, and Boston advised us the majority of resellers will supply this system with the desired OSes preinstalled, so there’s no need for it.

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