The big question when we opened the crate containing HP's BladeSystem c3000 Enclosure was: is this thing a blade server or is it a modular server put into a 6U rack profile? It's a bit of both.

With its brand-new c3000 hybrid chassis, also known as Shorty, HP has remade its now-famous tower enclosure and the server's guts into a flexible blade-enclosure format, retaining all the niceties of discrete servers but adding the flexibility of rack/blade modularity. HP's c3000 Enclosure has a horizontal blade design that can accommodate as many as four full-width c-class blade devices or eight half-width server or storage blades.

Unlike HP's higher-end c7000-class blades, the c3000-family blade server is not the typical blade enclosure designed to be piled high and deep inside a network operations centre. Instead, the c3000 we tested seems best suited for branch offices where it'll take up just the first six rack spaces, ostensibly sharing the rack real estate with other supporting equipment (routers, storage-area-network blocks and other network devices or appliances).

Energy consumption

The overall performance of these blades was quite good, but we have to note that HP knew our blade server tests incorporate a "green" element -- we measure the electricity required to drive these things -- and shipped low-end CPUs, thereby optimising it for low power consumption.

HP also supplied two server blades, the HP BL460c (based on a 64-bit Intel dual-core 1.6GHz Xeon 5110 CPU; this is the slowest one shipped on the blade); and the HP BL465c that uses AMD' 2110 HE CPU (1.8GHz, 64-bit, dual-core, also the slowest and smallest shipped with an AMD CPU). Both server blades came with 1GB of memory and have similar serial-attached-SCSI drive connections.

The performance characteristics of these slower server blades matched their clock rates. The slightly faster BL465c turned in a faster time of 392.3 ms versus the BL460c's 425.2 ms in the LMBench3 (our usual comparison test) processor fork+execve test, which tests the speed of context shifting and memory movement and allocation.

The interesting part is that the AMD-based blade used 62W at peak during the test sequence, whereas the Intel blade needed 77W at peak. This compares with a recent test we did on IBM's blades, which at a faster clock rate (2.66GHz) executed more quickly at 289.9 ms in the processor fork+execve test, but used 89W at peak during the same test, with the same operating system -- Fedora Core Linux -- in the same configuration (albeit a quad-core CPU, rather than a dual-core). These numbers are somewhat hard to compare, but give an indication of good performance and power consumption.

Product selection

The c3000 blade frame and its components are fully modular and built to order. As the options for components are staggering, HP has a Web site that lets customers select components via a Java/flash application. It's a highly visual site, and specifics of each blade are selected by part type (computer blade, storage, tape and others) and by placing the selected components visually into the enclosure. HP should be commended for this new way of buying and configuring servers.

Storage options include drive arrays and tape drives. The drive arrays can be connected through the chassis or used as iSCSI targets from other internal or external host servers. Because the enclosure is designed to be a self-contained, mini-data centre, the storage options -- often missing from more data centre-focused blade servers -- will be welcomed by small businesses and branches that don't have access to high-speed, over-the-net backup architectures.

The HP StorageWorks Ultrium 440c tape blade stores data on LTO-2 cartridges, in increments of data starting at 400GB. We verified that 2:1 compression is standard. We also tested HP's StorageWorks SB600c All-in-One storage blade, which combines a supplied Windows Server Standard Edition to create network-attached-storage shares. The storage also can be used as an iSCSI target for virtualised storage for the computer blades. While seemingly targeted for Microsoft NT File System storage needs, we also could use other iSCSI initiators to populate the server after a few configuration steps were found.