RLX Technologies may not yet be a household name in the UK but it certainly has an impressive pedigree as it was the first to market a blade server product way back in May 2001. Since then it has gone on to deliver an extensive range of products with its Series 300ex impressing mightily through its fine combination of build quality, high processing density, and quality management and deployment tools. The Series 600ex on review represents the next step for this extensive family and delivers support for a wide range of dual and single Xeon-equipped blades. There have been some big improvements in management and monitoring capabilities as all blades are now equipped with an ERRM (embedded remote management module) that allows each component to be remotely accessed even when powered down. This applies to the Server Blades and management blade. Each one also sports a slick ActiveStat LCD display and control buttons for easy manual configuration and local status checks. RLX’s ActiveConfig Java-based remote interface allows you to access the chassis, blades and switches where you can control power, monitor sensors, remotely control a blade using the open-source VNC client software, and start a serial connection to access the BIOS boot-up process. RLX’s optional Control Tower XT application provides even higher levels of access and improved management and OS deployment tools. A graphic of the chassis and installed components provides easy access to individual blades and offers a wealth of operational information. OS deployment across multiple blades is handled by the optional provisioning module which RLX claims is the only product that supports both Windows and Linux. When we reviewed the 300ex we criticised blade construction as the server boards weren’t protected and could be easily damaged during insertion or removal. Not so with the 600ex as the larger Xeon boards are completely sheathed in solid steel shells. RLX offers an extensive range of configurations. Base storage is provided by a 2.5in. hard disk located at the front of the blade and a second can be mounted at the rear but hardware RAID is not supported. The Xeon processors come next and are fitted with large passive heatsinks whilst four DIMM sockets further back support up to 8GB of PC2100 memory. A KVM (keyboard, video, monitor) feature is now available as an optional card can be fitted above the primary hard disk to provide full local access to each blade. The network connection is well served as each blade sports a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports plus a separate 10/100BaseTX Ethernet port to link it with the management blade. The 600ex chassis may not be pretty but it is superbly built and looks tough enough to survive most environments. Along with three 1500W hot-plug power supplies it uses three hot-swap fan assemblies and RLX advised us that these are all designed to satisfy the demands of the next generations of Xeon processors. Network connection options are more sophisticated as the bulky RJ-21 umbilical cables used in the 300ex have been given the elbow in favour of a greater number of options. A Gigabit pass-through module provides a direct path to each blade’s Gigabit ports while a Switch Blade module offers two internal 12-port Gigabit switches which combine the two blade ports into pairs of uplink ports for primary and secondary networks. The 10Gbit/s fibre stack link ports on these cards are not yet functional but RLX also offers 2Gbit/s fibre-channel and 10Gbit/s InfiniBand options for SAN connection and high-performance server clustering respectively. Remote chassis and blade management is handled by a separate blade occupying one of the four rear I/O expansion slots which brings together the blade’s 10/100BaseTX ports. The Series 600ex certainly looks good value as the review system came equipped with four blades sporting dual 2.8GHz Xeons, 2GB of memory and a 60GB hard disk, while the Control Tower XT blade was equipped with a single 2.8GHz processor and 1GB of memory. Also included were the management blade and a single Gigabit Switch Blade. The Series 600ex may not be able to beat the processing density of the IBM BladeCentre, or the build quality of HP’s BL20 p-Class, but it certainly offers a solid, cost-effective alternative.

OUR VERDICT

Competition in the blade server market has been heating up recently as more companies focus on maximizing floor space in their data centres. The Series 600ex looks a top choice if you’re after a high Xeon-based processing density as only IBM’s BladeCentre improves on this. But we found RLX offers equally good network connection and blade configuration options and its management software has seen substantial improvements.