It is impossible to discuss IBM's new RS/6000 Enterprise Server model S80 without stating the obvious - this is one big machine. At the very least, this server is about the size of two refrigerators. And there are larger configurations than the S80 in the configuration that I looked at.
After putting the server through its paces in the test Cenre, I found that the machine lives up to the promise implied by its large exoskeleton. IBM prides itself on being one of the few choices for large-scale mission-critical computing, and the S80 fits into that philosophy.
If you're looking for a server with massive processing power combined with massive I/O capabilities, backed by a company with some experience in this field, I'd certainly recommend the S80.
Not everyone needs the near-perfect uptime that a server such as the S80 offers, but for network managers who need to run around-the-clock, mission-critical applications, the S80 is a good choice. Because it offers so many fault-tolerant features and diagnostic tools, the S80 is well-suited for operations that need a lot of reliable processing power. It's definitely a much more serious server than even the highest-end Wintel solutions, and it's the kind of machine that's the envy of operations trying to get by with impressively scaled-up PCs.
The S80, like other RS/6000 Enterprise Servers, consists of one System Unit, which houses the processors and memory, and one or more external I/O units, each of which house several I/O drawers. The I/O units are connected by several high-speed links, and interestingly, the I/O drawers are PCI-based and sport a host of network cards and disk controllers. The use of PCI should help keep costs down.
One way that the S80 differs from its predecessor, the S70, is that it allows as many as four external RIO loops rather than two, which improves performance in configurations with many I/O drawers.
Powered by 24 460MHz PowerPC processors, the configuration I tested was very fast. My S80 also had 12 hard drives in its external I/O bay.
One remarkable thing about the S80 is the sheer volume of documentation IBM supplies for it. Using the documentation and the machine's front panel - which is basically a separate system that keeps an eye on the system proper - I could keep track of almost everything that was going on in the machine, especially when booting it.
The readouts would be extremely cryptic without IBM's good documentation. For instance, "4B00- F00D" does not refer to scary entrees, but instead to a failure of the Super I/O chip in I/O drawer 0. But with the documentation, the front-panel information is invaluable because it helps you decode those cryptic messages.
What's more, the front panel has many diagnostic functions that aren't frightening to use because they are not running on the actual machine, which means there is no real danger of causing problems when doing routine checks.
Like most high-end IBM hardware, the S80 can also be equipped with a modem, so it can call IBM and ask for help when it detects a fault within itself.
The management and remote management capabilities built into the hardware leave even the highest-end Wintel systems in the dust. For instance, Wintel systems don't have the capacity to call their vendor and request service when they need it.
For such a monster of a machine, the S80 is remarkably easy to work with - at least, after it powers up. My first attempts to bring it online were met with an eight-digit code on the machine's front panel. Using the installation guide, I decoded the number and found out that the S80 was claiming to have power problems.
After some work with an IBM engineer, the power problem turned out to be an issue with something else. I had a VGA monitor plugged in to what fairly screamed to be a VGA port (a female 15-pin high-density sub-D connector). Despite appearances, it was not a VGA port. I unplugged the wayward monitor, and the machine came up fine.
Another quirk - and this one, at least, I feel blameless for - is the S80's dislike of booting when a VT220 terminal is attached to its serial port.
Ironically, during initial configuration, the VT220 is more or less required. (There is a graphical setup, but my S80 didn't have a graphics card.)However, the terminal can be plugged in only at the very beginning of the boot sequence to configure parameters about how to boot and after the serial port test, which will fail if the terminal is attached. This is a minor annoyance, especially on a machine that is designed to run for years without powering down.
All in all, the RS/6000 Enterprise Server S80 is one serious machine that would be at home in the data centre. And considering its power and manageability, it comes in at a surprisingly affordable price.
The bottom line ****
RS/6000 Enterprise Server S80
Summary: The RS/6000 S80 is a solid, well-rounded, fast server with excellent management and diagnostic tools. If you need uptime, raw speed, and IBM- calibre support, the S80 makes perfect sense.
Business Case: The S80 can handle huge amounts of load in a more organised, less complex manner than using a bunch of small servers. With its fault-tolerant design and track record, this server will let you worry about implementing Internet commerce, not how well the hardware is going to handle it.
Good management and diagnostics
Cons: Minor quirks during start-up
Cost: Available on application from the company.