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HP goes to 11 with ProLiant launch

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Nehalem Day When you are the volume leader in the x64 server racket, as Hewlett-Packard is, you have customers who have all kinds of different needs, and when Intel launches a new processor for the workhorse two-socket portion of the server market, you go broad and you go deep to protect the HP server biz.

So it comes as no surprise that HP will today, as part of the "Nehalem EP" Xeon 5500 processor launch, put eleven new servers in the field with its ProLiant Generation 6 products, with over 1,000 separate SKUs for different configurations.

This is, according to John Gromala, director of product marketing for HP's ProLiant server business, the largest roll-out of either x86 or x64 iron in the company's history. And it is not done yet, because we still have the "Nehalem EX" octocore Xeons coming later this year (presumably the Xeon 7500s) for four-socket and larger servers as well as the six-core "Istanbul" Opteron chips from Advanced Micro Devices. HP's quad-core "Shanghai" Opterons,

The themes of this ProLiant server launch will be familiar. "There is no question that the economy is putting pressure on companies," says Gromala. "People are extending product lifecycles. A server that might have been retired in three years is now going to be use for four, four years goes to five, and so on." But this is not necessarily a smart strategy from an economic perspective.

HP is positioning the new Nehalem-based two-socket servers as the natural replacement for single-core and dual-core x64 processors, and like other vendors, it has done the return-on-investment calculations to show that moving off the old iron and driving up utilization on new iron can pay for the new servers in as little as three months, if you include power, cooling, and space costs. But managing power and cooling to get that ROI requires more management than just picking a low-voltage processor and an SSD for a server.

As part of the ProLiant G6 launch, HP is taking the set of ThermalLogic technologies it created for its BladeSystem blade servers and moving them over to its rack-based ProLiants. This technology allows different parts of a system to be cooled independently of other parts, so you are not trying to maintain a temperature for different components scattered around the server. The machines are all equipped with what HP is calling a "sea of sensors," which are 32 different smart sensors to adjust fan speeds and memory and I/O capacity as workloads change.

The machines also include dynamic power capping, a feature that was in some ProLiants as a test run last year. With dynamic power capping, administrators can set a power threshold for a server and the machine will quiesce components to make sure that it stays under that level. The technology will also allow one or more machines in a rack to run hot if their workloads require more oomph, but the aggregate heat in the rack can be kept within a specified limit.

With the ProLiant G6 rack servers, HP is also moving to a standard set of power supplies, which are all located in the same location within the servers to make it easier for admins. HP is offering a 460-watt supply with a 92 per cent efficiency, a 750-watt supply with a 92 per cent efficiency, and a 1,200 watt supply with a 90 per cent efficiency. The ProLiant G5s all came with one power supply, which was chosen to support the typical expected customer. Now, with the G6 iron, customers can pick and choose different supplies - which are all more efficient than the ones in the G5 machines, by the way.

HP has also merged the Integrated Lights Out (iLO) service processor and its Web console with its BladeSystem administration processor to create the ProLiant Onboard Administrator, which gives a consistent look and feel to rack and blade machines. The company is also bundling Insight Control Environment, a tool that is used to manage racks of machines, on the G6 ProLiants at a 20 per cent discount. Gromala says that for every 100 servers managed by these tools, customers can save an estimated $48,000 in operational costs. (I'd like to see how that number was calculated, but that's the HP sales pitch).

The new G6 machines - which are based on Intel's "Tylersburg" 5500 series chipsets and use motherboards designed by HP - have a new set of SmartArray disk controllers that offer up to 200 per cent improvement in I/O operations per second, and of course, thanks to Nehalem, they sport at least two times - and sometimes more - main memory than their predecessors, the G5s. In many cases, the machines have 18 DDR3 DIMM slots, although on the smaller machines they have 12 DIMMs.

HP is only supporting 1 GB, 2 GB, 4 GB, and 8 GB DIMMs right now. In many cases, the machines support twice as many disk drives - up to sixteen 2.5-inch disks in the ProLiant DL380, the workhorse 2U rack server for HP for many years. And the new machines sport PCI-Express 2.0 peripheral slots, which has lots more bandwidth to balance out the memory bandwidth increases that come with Nehalem EP chips and their QuickPath Interconnect.

As other vendors have been saying, HP says that customers moving to Nehalem-based two-socket boxes from the prior generation of ProLiant servers can expect to see about a factor of two performance improvement.

That's the generic description of the machines. Now let's get into some details, starting at the bottom of the ProLiant line with tower servers and working up to racks and blades. These are all two-socket machines, of course.

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