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Hewlett-Packard is looking to add an extra layer of virtualization to the data center.

On Feb. 27, the Palo Alto, Calif., IT company will expand its Virtual Connect Architecture for its c-Class blade platform with new Ethernet and Fibre Channel modules.

In keeping with its blade agenda, HP also announced that it will start to sell the first workstation to use the newer c-Class architecture—the ProLiant xw460c—which will be powered by Intel’s dual-core Xeon 5100 series processors.

HP’s Virtual Connect Architecture, which is derived from virtualization capabilities found on the high-end NonStop systems, allows the company’s blade customers to create virtual interconnect fabrics.

With a new 10 Gigabit Ethernet and 4 Gigabit Fibre Channel, HP is looking to separate server management from the management of a datacenter’s LAN and SAN (storage area network).

The concept behind this virtualized fabric is to allow server administrators, once a server’s configurations are established, to change or replace server applications or perform maintenance and recovery without changing the LAN or SAN.

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“What this does is allows the server manager to speed up the process, while eliminating whole steps in that process,” said Mark Potter, vice president of HP’s BladeSystems unit.

“The Virtual Connect infrastructure allows a server administrator to add, replace and change compute resources without the need to coordinate across three different organizations within the IT department,” Potter said.

Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata, in Nashua, NH., said HP is coming through with some of the promises it made with the Virtual Connect Architecture it announced when it rolled out its c-Class architecture in 2006.

“The idea is that there is a virtualization layer between server and then network and storage, and this sets up a situation where the server guy in an organization can make changes by himself within the chassis without involving the external storage and networking,” Haffe said.

The architecture works by allowing the Ethernet and Fibre Channel modules to define the network and the SAN configurations.

This is then coordinated with the built-in Virtual Connect manager, which then defines the server connection profile for each server or server bay before the actual server is installed.

This profile establishes the MAC (media access control) addresses, the WWNs (Worldwide Names) and the SAN boot parameters and then holds these configurations in constant. If the server is changed, the configurations and connection profile stay in the constant.

After the initial server is setup, changes made by the server administrator can be performed and the LAN and SAN will remain unaffected.

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In addition to speeding up the time it will take to alter application and other server configurations, Potter said that by combing the 10G Ethernet, 4G Fibre Channel and the blade architecture, IT administrators can reduce the amount of cabling needed within the data center.

Along with its Virtual Connect Architecture, HP has also launched its first c-Class workstation. The HP ProLiant xw460c workstation can support up to two, dual-core Xeon processors, which can range in clock speeds from 1.6GHz and 2.66GHz, with 4MB of L2 cache memory.

The workstation can support up to a minimum of 1GB or a maximum of 16GB of DDR2 (double data rate) of memory, as well as two serial attached SCSI (SAS) hard drives, which each support up to 146GB of memory each. The workstation also uses an Nvidia Quadro FX540M graphics adaptor with 128MB of memory.

According to IDC, workstations represent a $5 billion marketplace, and the number of workstation expected to ship in the next years is slated to increase by about 500,000 units. Dell and HP are the two top vendors in this field, but the high revenues have attracted a number of smaller companies, such as Appro International.

Finally, as way to support its c-Class offerings, HP is introducing its Blade Connect program, an online community for the company’s channel partners and VARs, customers and industry observers to share information about HP blade offerings. This new online offering will be part of HP’s BladeSystem Solution Builder Program.

HP’s new Ethernet, Fibre Channel and workstation are all immediately available. The Ethernet module starts at $5,699 and the Fibre Channel module at $9,499. The ProLiant xw460c starts at $4,329, according to the company.

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