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IBM tunes Xeon E7 appliances for VMware hypervisor

And HANA loves SAP

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The mantra at IBM these days is workload-optimized systems, and the company is trying to make the sales pitch easier for itself and its reseller partners by tuning up server configurations to support specific workloads right out of the cardboard box.

IBM has taken the new "Westmere-EX" Xeon E7 processors announced by Intel back in April and dropped them into configurations of its BladeCenter HX5 blade and System x3950 X5 and x3690 X5 rack machines preconfigured with VMware's ESXi hypervisor for server virtualization.

To boost the memory capacity of the two-socket HX5 blade, which has 16 DDR3 main memory slots, so it can better support server virtualization, IBM is adding the MAX5 memory expansion blade, which snaps into the HX5 blade using IBM's own eX5 chipset and which provides another 24 memory slots. The HX5 blade is configured with two Xeon E7-2830 processors, which have eight cores running at 2.13GHz and 24MB of L3 cache on chip. IBM is putting 40 of its 8GB memory sticks in the blade and memory expansion unit, filling up all of the available slots, for a total of 320GB of main memory across the 16 cores in the blade.

That works out to an average of 20GB per core, and that is a bit fat, and the wonder is why IBM is not using 4GB sticks. IBM is now supporting 16GB memory sticks on the HX5 blades, but because these are more expensive, IBM is using skinnier memory and the MAX5 expansion unit instead. IBM is also tossing in its Virtual Fabric Adapter for virtualizing I/O on the HX5 blade. VMware's freebie ESXi 4.1 hypervisor is installed on USB sticks on the blade, which has room for two 50GB solid state disks or a variety of 2.5-inch hard disk drives.

If you are setting up a private cloud based on VMware's stack and blades don't do it for you, then Big Blue suggests that the System x3950 X5 rack server is what you want.

The preconfigured System x3950 X5 server comes in a 4U chassis and has four of Intel's ten-core Xeon E7-4860 processors, which spin at 2.26GHz and which have 24MB of L3 cache per chip. This server has 64 memory slots on its motherboard, and IBM will, if you have crazy amounts of money laying around, sell you 32GB memory sticks if you have an urge to boost the memory in this 40-core box to 2TB. But to help lower memory costs on the ESXi-driving machine, IBM is adding a MAX5 memory expansion unit with 32 memory slots through the eX5 chipset that controls the system to boost the number of memory slots to 96. By doing so, IBM can use low-cost 4GB memory sticks and still get the overall capacity of this server up to 384GB.

That leaves 9.6GB per core for virtualization workloads, which is only half what IBM put on the blades but still more than twice what the typical customer is putting on a VM these days. The average is around 4GB per VM, and most companies pin one VM to one core just to make their life easier, although you can obviously split a core virtually and run multiple VMs per core on ESXi and other hypervisors.

The System x3950 X5 server has lots of room for expansion. The eX5 chipset allows for two four-socket nodes to be lashed together creating a single system image, and with a 5U MAX5 memory expansion unit, the memory capacity on such an eight-socket box can be extended to 3TB across a 60-core machine.

The third ESXi appliance configuration from IBM is based on the System x3690 X5, a 2U rack server with two Xeon E7 sockets and sporting 32 memory slots and 16 disk bays. IBM is configuring this machine with two Xeon E7-2860 processors, which run at 2.26GHz, have 10 cores per chip, and have 24MB of L3 cache, and is putting 4GB memory into all those 32 slots as well as bolting on a MAX5 memory expansion chassis with another 32 slots, for a total of 256GB of main memory. That works out to 20 cores total and a pretty hefty 12.8GB per core, on average.

The ESXI 4.1 hypervisor is pre-installed on the System x rack boxes using USB sticks on the System x3950 X5 motherboard, as with the blade server above.

The preconfigured ESXi machines above will be available from IBM on June 24.

IBM has also jigged a System x server tuned to run SAP's High-Performance Analytic Appliance (HANA) software, a kind of bolt-on, in-memory data mart to speed up queries on SAP applications without whacking ERP and CRM application software running in the back-end.

In this case, IBM chose the two-socket System x3690 X5 server, which has 32 memory slots. IBM is configuring the HANA appliance with two Xeon E7-2870 processors (2.4GHz with 30MB of L3 cache on chip) and eight 16GB memory sticks for a total of 128GB. IBM is also adding in eight 50GB solid state disk and eight 300GB 10K RPM SAS disks to the server to hold the data that queries run against. IBM presumably started with 16GB memory sticks because customers will want to substantially beef up the memory capacity on the HANA appliance to keep more data in memory and speed up access, and they would get pretty grumpy if they bought 8GB sticks to only find they need to toss them out to get fatter memory. The SSDs are mirrored in groups of four drives and the disks are striped with RAID 5 protection.

The HANA appliance server is configured with a special edition of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 that is tweaked to run SAP applications and IBM's General Parallel File System. The HANA server includes the in-memory appliance, which consists of SAP's Sybase Application Server 15 database, SAP Host Agent 7.2, Apache Tomcat 5.5, and Perl 5.8, and this stack is preconfigured on the machine. Customers have to buy a license from SAP to activate this software.

IBM's System x HANA appliance will start shipping on June 17.

Pricing for these four server appliances was not divulged. ®

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