IBM slams energy efficiency of HP’s blade servers

IBM Corp. says its blade servers are “fundamentally better” than Hewlett-Packard Co.’s (HP’s) that are based on energy efficiency, a growing concern of data center operators. But HP questioned the credibility of IBM’s claims.

IBM Thursday released test results that show that its BladeCenter line of servers uses up to 30 percent less electricity than HP’s BladeSystem servers. Although the tests were done internally by IBM, a company executive said IBM would welcome an independent analysis of the energy efficiency of both company’s systems.

IBM compared its BladeCenter server, model LS21, which uses an Opteron processor from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD), to an HP cClass BladeCenter, also Opteron-powered, model BL465c.

The IBM blade was 30 percent more energy efficient when idle and 18 percent more power efficient when running at full capacity. When comparing blades running a Xeon processor from Intel Corp., the IBM HS21 blade is 26 percent more energy efficient than the comparable HP model BL460c at idle and 13 percent more energy efficient at full capacity. Both the Intel and AMD processors tested were dual core.

“Now we know why HP’s slogan is the ‘lights out’ data center. As it turns out, turning out the lights offsets the inefficiency of their blade products,” said Doug Balog, vice president of IBM’s BladeCenter product line.

HP uses the marketing term “lights out” to boast that its data centers run efficiently around the clock without personnel to manage them, meaning they will run with the lights out.

“Without access to IBM’s test methodology and results, it’s hard to determine if valid, real-world scenarios were used,” HP responded in a prepared statement. “We are happy to be tested against IBM’s best effort via an independent, unbiased and credible third-party.”

IBM also introduced an updated version of its PowerExecutive management tool for monitoring data center energy use.

PowerExecutive provides an overall view of energy usage in the data center.The new version allows an operator to establish caps on energy usage and regulate the operation of servers to stay under that cap.

While Balog compared PowerExecutive version one to the gas mileage ratings for cars, he said version two acts like cruise control.

But Vernon Turner, an analyst at IDC, questioned whether center facilities managers should be able to control power usage if it conflicts with the role of IT specialists in charge of running certain applications on servers.

“It’s very concerning that somebody may try to throttle the performance of a hardware device without knowing what’s going on regarding the service level requirements for the applications,” Turner said. “If somebody is controlling dials, so to speak, how do they know what the effect is on the overall infrastructure?”

IBM’s Balog responded that IT managers and facilities managers collaborate more today than they may have in the past so there wouldn’t be a conflict.

But Turner also says blade servers are a small percentage of the server types in data centers today. And even if, according to industry estimates, blades may make up 30 percent of data centers by 2010, blade performance can’t be considered in isolation. A center has to look at its overall energy consumption versus its operational demands.

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