Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/03/30/hp_nehalem_servers/

HP goes to 11 with ProLiant launch

Strength in numbers

By Timothy Prickett Morgan

Posted in The Channel, 30th March 2009 19:09 GMT

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.

The details

The ProLiant ML150 G6 is a tower server that supports the standard 80-watt quad-core Nehalem parts running at 2 GHz to 2.53 GHz. HP is also supporting that E5502 dual-core part running at 1.86 GHz, presumably as the cheapest processor option for price-sensitive small and medium businesses that buy tower servers. This box supports up to 48 GB of main memory, and it has room for either eight 2.5-inch drives (which are hot pluggable) or four 3.5-inch drives (which are not). This tower server can be tipped on its side and mounted in racks, where it occupies 5U of rack space.

The ML350 G6 is a tower box that can also be mounted in a rack (taking up 5U of space), and it is being pitched as the best price/performance tower box in the two-socket lineup. This machine supports each and every Nehalem processor SKU - all eleven of them - and offers up to 144 GB of memory (from 18 DIMM slots) and up to sixteen 2.5-inch drives or up to eight 3.5-inch drives.

The ML370 G6 tower server has a redesigned chassis (which fits in a 4U space if mounted in a rack). It supports all of the Nehalems and up to 144 GB of memory, just like the ML350 G6, but it can have up to two dozen 2.5-inch disks or up to fourteen 3.5-inch disks. That's a neat trick. HP has cut the form factor down by 20 per cent, but increased the disk capacity by 50 per cent for 2.5-inch drives and by 75 per cent for 3.5-inch disks. HP says that this server has been optimized specifically to support virtualization-driven server consolidation or for remote sites or departmental deployment.

Now, on to rack-mounted machines. The DL370 G6 is just the ML370 G6 just described above tipped on its side with its little feet cut off and an open face plate.

At the bottom of the rack lineup, the ProLiant DL160 G6 is a 1U rack server that supports the 60-watt L5520 Nehalem chip running at 2.26 GHz. The 80-watt Nehalems running at 2 GHz (E5504), 2.26 GHz (E5520), and 2.53 GHz (E5540). And the extreme versions rated at 95 watts running at 2.67 GHz (X5550) or 2.93 GHz (X5570). (The dual-core E5502 Nehalem running at 1.86 GHz is not supported by HP in this machine).

All of these chips have 8 MB of L3 cache except the E5504, which has 4 MB. The machine supports up to 144 GB of DDR3 memory (18 slots) and supports four 3.5-inch or eight 2.5-inch drives, for a maximum of 4 TB of using 1 TB (7,200 RPM) disks. HP is pitching this box as ideal for Web serving or as nodes in supercomputer clusters, presumably because it is cheap.

The ProLiant DL180 G6 is a 2U server that only supports the 60-watt L5520 and the 80-watt E5504, E5520, and E5540 processors. It has up to 96 GB of main memory and room for up to 14 3.5-inch drives or 25 2.5-inch drives. Using hot-plug 2.5-inch drives in 72 GB capacity - the kind you would expect for a peppy server pushing a lot of I/O - this machine tops out at 1.8 TB. If you use slower SATA or SAS drives, you can drive capacity as high as 7.5 TB using SAS drives or 14 TB using SATA drives.

The DL360 G6 is a beefier server, geared for what HP describes as "reliable compute power, iLO advanced remote management and fault tolerance for space-constrained environments." It looks like a skinny two-socket box using the same motherboard as the ML350 G6, ML370 G6, and DL370 servers (to my eye), supporting all the Nehalems and up to 144 GB of main memory.

However, the DL360 G6 only supports 2.5-inch disks in its 1U chassis, and only up to eight of them. It does not offer support for 3.5-inch drives - something that will happen to all servers over the next year or so as 15K SAS drives in 2.5-inch form factors come down in price.

The ProLiant DL380 G6 is probably going to be the workhorse machine this year, as the DL380s have been since the dot-com boom. This 2U rack-mounted machine not only supports the fully Nehalem lineup, but is the machine that supports the Nehalems with the so-called Turbo Mode. With Turbo Mode, chip cores on the quad-core chip can be quiesced, thereby allowing remaining cores to run at a higher clock speed, thereby boosting the performance of the jobs running on the cores (at least those that are sensitive to clock speeds).

The quad-core Nehalem EP chips running at 2.26 GHz or higher support this Turbo Mode in the DL380 G6. The DL360 supports up to 144 GB of main memory and up to eight 2.5-inch drives (sixteen with an optional SAS drive cage) or up to six 3.5-inch drives. (Both SAS and SATA drives are supported in both disk sizes in a wide variety of capacities and speeds).

The blade servers in the ProLiant family that are sporting the Nehalem chips include the ProLiant BL280c, the BL460c, and the BL490c. As the names suggest, they plug into the SMB-style "Shorty" c3000 chassis or the larger c7000 chassis.

The feeds and speeds of the BL280c, presumably the entry Nehalem EP blade server, have not been announced today, and won't be available for a few weeks.

The BL460c is HP's workhorse blade server, which it says accounts for 25 per cent of blade server shipments worldwide. (It is akin to the DL380 rack machine in terms of its hold on the market.) The is a half-height blade that supports the full breadth of Nehalem EP chips with 60, 80, or 95 watt thermals, including the quad-core models and the 1.86 GHz dual-core model. The standard BL460c comes with 6 GB of memory, expandable to 96 GB of memory in its dozen memory slots. The blade has two hot-plus bays for 2.5-inch SATA or SAS disks, an integrated RAID 1 controller, and two PCI-Express x8 slots on mezzanine cards. In terms of networking, the BL460c comes with a dual-port 10 Gigabit Ethernet link using HP's Flex-10 adapters and Virtual Interconnect virtual I/O.

The BL490c is the HP blade with a large memory footprint. However, the BL490c will still have less than half the memory of a Cisco Systems "California" blade server, if the rumored 384 GB support for that Cisco product turns out to be correct for a two-socket blade. Anyway, the BL490c has eighteen DDR3 memory slots, which is a lot to pack onto a half-height blade server. This blade, which was designed with server virtualization in mind, only supports the 2.93 GHz X5570 (95 watts), 2.53 GHz E5540 (80 watts), and 2 GHz E5504 (80 watts) processors. The blade has room for SSDs, which come in 32 GB and 64 GB capacities. No hard disks are offered on this blade. But customers who want disks can reach out to a blade storage enclosure using the integrated SAS controller. There's just too much heat in disks to mix in that many DDR3 memory slots on a blade server. The BL490c comes with the same dual-port 10 Gigabit Flex-10 adapter used on the BL460c. The HP spec sheets say the BL490c has two expansion slots, but doesn't say what kind.

The rack servers all support various versions of Windows and Linux as well as Solaris 10, while the tower servers only support Windows and Linux. Sun doesn't have a Solaris tower server business, and apparently, HP doesn't expect one, either. The blade servers are certified to run Windows, Linux, or Solaris 10, just like the racks.

HP says that the ProLiant G6 machines range in price from $999 to $2,105 in base configurations. More precise - and useful - pricing information was not available at press time. All of the new G6 machines using Nehalems are available now, excepting the DL360 and DL370 racks and the BL280c blades, which are expected to be available "in the coming weeks." ®