They are all doing it. They just can’t help themselves. HP did it and so did Dell. Acer, Asus, Lenovo and IBM did too. Even Sun, with all its trials and tribulations of late, got in on the game and Cisco is making moves as well. And there are some in the industry that think by doing it, they have provided the impetus for a boost in server sales.
Since the beginning of the year, the server market has gone from being “hell in a hand basket”, according to IDC, to strong quarter-on-quarter growth. After breaking through the $US1 billion mark for the first time in 2007, things went pear shaped as the global economic downturn started to hit home, forcing spending holds and project freezes. In the first quarter of 2009, IDC said the overall server market units shipped declined 38.9 per cent, while revenue declined 38.8 per cent year-on-year.
The x86 server market shrunk to its smallest recorded figure since the first quarter in 2004. Units shipped dropped 38 per cent and revenue contracted a whopping 46.4 per cent. In the non-x86 market, revenues declined 26.6 per cent to outperform the x86 market.
Globally, things weren’t much better. Worldwide server unit shipments declined 26.5 per cent year-over-year in the first quarter to around 1.49 million units, the largest unit shipment decline in five years. Worldwide factory server revenue was down 24.5 per cent to $US9.9 billion in the first quarter. But the most recent results on the second quarter of 2009, the March-June period, indicate a signif cant rebound. According to Gartner, for the overall server market Australia suffered only a slight 2.5 per cent revenue decline for year-on-year, but doubled on Q1 results.
So what was “it” that the vendors did to turn things around? Aside from a natural rebound in the market and a resumption of confidence, many vendors brought out new product ranges, particularly in the blade and x86 sectors, based on advanced specifications. The argument is that because most of the big vendors were scheduled to bring out the below ranges, companies held off purchasing servers until they had access to the latest and greatest.
In March this year, the three biggest names in the server game – HP, Dell and IBM – announced they would be coming out with servers based on Intel’s next generation Xeon processors. HP built 11 new servers using Intel’s Nehalem architecture as well as HP technology to improve performance and manage power more efficiently.
“The HP ProLiant G6 servers were designed with three goals in mind: Minimise power consumption; maximise virtualisation potential; and make every investment dollar count,” HP South Pacific product manger enterprise servers, Andrew Cameron, said. “The design focal points were power efficiency, infrastructure management and performance.”
Each of these focal points in the G6 range – tower, rack and blade platforms – included new specs. On the power efficiency side of things, HP uses its Thermal Logic technology, which aims to improve power and cooling through on-board controls and measurement. This is facilitated by 32 smart sensors incorporated to track thermal information across the server monitoring fans, its memory and processors. This is then linked to the Power Regulator, while a feature called Dynamic Power Capping lets users limit the power drawn. Additionally, the new range includes a common slot power supply.
For infrastructure management, the G6 range has features like the Onboard Administrator for set-up and health inspection; the management console, Insight Control Environment; and Virtual Connect Flex-10, which aims to help with network bandwidth management in virtualised environments.
On the last focal point of performance, HP touts the use of the Intel Xeon processor, the vendor’s own Smart Array Modular Controller and Insight Remote Support.
Dell’s most recent offerings, part of the 11th Generation Wave 3 range, includes the PowerEdge T110, T310, R210, and R510 products. In the same vein as HP, all Dell’s latest servers are based on the Nehalem micro architecture design and aim to improve data throughput by cutting bottlenecks that plagued older chips, while also cutting energy usage.
At the entry-level is the T110 in a tower form factor aimed at small businesses. It has four DIMM slots, four HDDs, four PCIe slots and one LAN on motherboard (LOM) connection. Bigger brother in the tower range, the T310 is also based on the Intel Xeon 3400 series with six DIMM slots, four HDDs, two LOMs and fi ve PCIe slots.
On the rack server side of things is the R210, another entry-level 1U server with PSU-250w. The server is based on the new Intel Xeon 3400 series and has four DIMMs slots, two HDDs, two LOMs and one PCIe x16 slot. Then comes the R510, which has a chassis depth of 24-inches, is based on the Xeon 5500 series and has eight DIMMs slots, 12 HDDs, two LOMs, three PCIe slots and one storage slot.
Earlier in the year, Dell also released fi ve new blade, rack and tower PowerEdge servers based on Intel’s Xeon 5500 series. The servers include the M610 and M710 blade servers, the R710 and R610 rack servers and the T610 tower server.
As the Intel Xeon 5500 series processors are designed with 8MB of shared cache and memory performance up to 1333MHz (this differs depending on model), IBM also went with it as a platform for its new generation of system x servers launched in March.
At the time, IBM introduced four new rack servers and blades featuring unique designs that can slash energy costs up to 50 per cent, the company claimed. The offerings include the BladeCenter HS22 blade server, System x3650 M2 and System x3550 M2 rack servers. Big Blue also brought out the System x iDataPlex dx360 M2, which is designed for datacentres, and provides up to five times the compute density versus traditional 1U rack servers while cooling systems more efficiently, according to the company.
Representatives for Big Blue down under pointed to the vendor’s BladeCenter HS22 as a key product. The BladeCenter can contain 14 server blades in 7U enclosure and 84 server blades in 42U rack. It also accommodates a choice of hot swappable internal storage drives like SAS, SATA, a boot solid-state drive (SSD) and performance SSD. The enclosure is backwards compatible with all BladeCentre enterprise and office chassis. Moreover, there is the option of having the VMware ESXi hypervisor preloaded. ---P---
Acer has been one of the rising stars in the server fi eld, outperforming many of its peers in the first half of the year, according to both IDC and Gartner. Recently, it came out with its new range of M2 Altos Servers. The Altos G540 has moved to the Altos G540 M2, the Altos R520 has moved to the Altos R520 M2 and fi nally the Altos R720 has transitioned to the Altos R720 M2. All run on the Xeon 5500 platform.
“These are the Nehalem processors which have had a move away from the traditional three-chip configuration with a CPU, a northbridge and a southbridge and have moved to a two-chip solution with such features as an integrated memory controller [IMC] on the CPU and a Quick Path Interconnect [QPI] between the processor and the northbridge,” Acer Computer Australia commercial desktop/enterprise solutions group product manager, Harry Boyadjian, said. “What this means in real time is an increase in performance and a reduction in power consumption with decreased power ratings of the 5500 Series Xeon processors compared to the previous 5400 Series Xeon processors.
“The new range of Acer Altos M2 Servers are now running on Registered DDR3 Memory, again with benefits such as reduced power consumption and increased performance. In addition, all the new servers have integrated Acer Remote Management Cards [ARMC] meaning you don’t need to invest further to get the functionality of remote management.”
In contrast to many of its peers, and arguably because of its acquisition by Oracle, Sun has battled in recent months. But despite the uncertainty surrounding the vendor’s future, it has come out with new servers, two of which are the Sun Fire X4275 and the Sun Blade X6275.
The X4275 is a rack-optimised (2RU) x64 server with one or two Xeon 5500 processors, Intel HyperThreading and 18 memory DIMMs for maximum memory of 144GB. It also has 48 lanes of PCIe 2.0 via 6 PCIe 2.0 low profi le slots and offers a choice of Solaris, Linux, Windows and VMware operating systems.
The X6275 blade server modules, meanwhile, were designed for computeintensive applications and again are based on Intel’s latest processor. Coming in two models, the Infi niBand and the Gigabit Ethernet, these units have two quad-core processors per compute node, for a total of four processors per server module.
ASUS, CISCO AND LENOVO
Both Lenovo and Cisco have joined the throng of vendors using Intel’s Xeon 5500 processors. Early in the year, Cisco announced its C-Series rack-mount servers, which are designed to help accelerate the adoption of the Cisco unifi ed computing and datacentre virtualisation system. Like the predecessor B-Series blades, the C-Series rack-mount servers utilise X86 Intel Xeon 5500 processors and are optimised for Cisco’s memory expansion and virtualised adapter technologies, which are integral to its Unifi ed Computing System.
Similarly, Lenovo’s new ThinkServer products, such as its RD210-1RU and RD220-2RU, utilise the 5500 processors. And the vendor claims the new ThinkServers are virtualisation ready with embedded on-board hypervisor connectors and support for: Hyper-V; Xen; and VMware.
Asus, on the other hand, is the odd one out in the server crowd, having launched its latest server range in Australia with the Intel Xeon 3400 series processors. The vendor’s tower and rack servers and P7F server boards feature DDR3 support and claim better performance and efficiency.
MORE, MORE, MORE
In all cases, the list of features and specifications are obviously far from comprehensive. But what’s important to note is all the server vendors have come out with significant new offerings around the second quarter or later of this year and all, bar Asus, are based on Intel’s latest and greatest processor.
At the same time, the server market has picked up and things are looking rosier for both the vendors and their partners. It might be coincidental, but with so many of the big players making similar moves and the market moving with them, it would be remiss for channel partners to ignore the trend.
The question now is will the same thing happen in future as we continue to see improved processor performance and as Intel battles rival, AMD, for server chip market share? AMD is due to ship its 6-core Istanbul chips later this year, while Intel will ship 8-core Nehalem-EX processors later this year or early 2010.