RLX blade-and-storage combo falls short
- 02 June, 2004 16:01
RLX Technologies latest offering is what the company calls a “modular computing” solution, containing blade servers and Fibre Channel (FC) storage arrays, plus an enhanced version of its Control Tower management software for provisioning the storage system. These additional products — some of which are manufactured by partners — better position RLX to compete against other major blade companies. That’s because it’s often advantageous to purchase a single integrated computing ecosystem of processors and storage, which provides better interoperability as well as “one call” support.
The good news is that RLX’s solution, with server blades and storage subsystems, is functional and complete. The bad news is that RLX hasn’t fully integrated the products or added value beyond that of the individual components.
The blade servers and chassis I tested haven’t evolved since I examined them last summer. The FC switch and storage array are RLX products in name only and lack the hardware-based management functionality that distinguishes the RLX blade technology. The excellent Control Tower software has gone through only minor revisions and manages only RLX’s own hardware, so it doesn’t see the storage subsystem.
Old meets new
The RLX system’s foundation is its System 600ex Chassis, which can support as many as 10 dual-processor server blades within a standard 6U rack-mount enclosure. It’s an impressive chassis, with three redundant power supplies and four expansion slots at the rear. Those slots can be populated with options including a management module, GbE switch module, a 2GB FC pass-through, or a new InfiniBand pass-through.
The server blades for this chassis range in speed from a 2.6GHz Intel Xeon DP to a recently introduced 3.2GHz Xeon server. Each blade has one or two internal (non-hot-swappable) hard drives, as much as 8GB of RAM, can be configured with one or two processors, and contains dual 1GB Ethernet network interface cards (NICs). There’s also a daughter-card slot for a 2GB FC.
The chassis I received contained one GbE switch module, a management module, and an FC pass-through. There were nine dual-processor 2.8GHz blades, four with Windows 2000 Server and five with Red Hat Linux; all had the FC daughter card. With the exception of that FC card, this was an identical configuration to what I previously reviewed.
The package also contained Control Tower XT, RLX’s management software. Control Tower is arguably the best server management software I’ve ever seen. It has the capability of monitoring hardware and software down to an extremely granular level, aided by management agents in Windows and Linux, as well as IP-based management chips in the servers and in the chassis.
With Control Tower, every element — from fans to complete servers to an entire rack — can be managed through an extremely intuitive, Java- built, browser-based application. The RLX-designed hardware, including chassis and blades, has numerous tiny LCD panels and a control button. Collectively called ActivStat, it is used to monitor and configure the chassis, its components, and individual servers without Control Tower.
Control Tower XT also includes excellent provisioning software, ActivConfig, which allows full server images to be built and stored on the management server and then pushed out to individual blades based on their rack number, chassis number, and slot position within a chassis. Back up those server blades with a load-balancing appliance, and the entire hardware swap would be invisible to users.
Where’s the value-add?
The blades and Control Tower XT remain excellent, and this time around RLX adds storage to the mix.
This consists of QLogic-manufactured FC daughter cards within each server blade; an RLX-branded QLogic 2Gbps, 16-port FC switch (the QLogic SANbox2); and, in my test configuration, an
RLX-branded LSI Logic drive enclosure with room for 14 FC drives in a 3U-high package. RLX equipped the drive enclosure with four Seagate 36GB drives.
To cut a long story short: Everything works until you get to the blade system-storage integration. The drivers and hardware integrate with the FC storage system fine; the storage works out-of-the-box, even on hot-swapped blades.
My major complaint — and it’s a biggie — is that beyond the inclusion of drivers and qualification of the gear, there’s no “RLX Secret Sauce” in the storage array. Control Tower XT doesn’t see the LSI Logic storage array or QLogic FC switch, beyond the use of an add-in module to facilitate provisioning the storage with its servers. Control Tower also cannot simulate the storage resources on its browser-based display, monitor their hardware status, or affect their configuration.
For example, a hardware failure with the blade chassis or with a blade was readily visible on RLX’s tiny ActivStat LCDs or with Control Tower XT. But have a failure or configuration issue with the FC storage gear — such as my tests with failing out a hard drive or killing a power supply — and as far as Control Tower XT is concerned, the system is A-OK, even if the LSI Logic disk array is beeping its head off with error tones. Your only option is to use separate QLogic FC management software to take care of the solution’s storage components.
I commend RLX for expanding its offerings and can’t fault any of its components on their own. But I came away from this test disappointed in its full system with the storage solution.
The system works great — RLX has an outstanding blade system with outstanding management. Yet until the company goes beyond slapping its logo on partner hardware and begins truly integrating peripheral systems such as storage into its management system, there will be little to commend such modular computing offerings from RLX beyond the simplicity of one-stop shopping.
For Australian distribution and pricing details contact Simon Eastwick at Simon.Eastwick@rlx.com