Performance and polish

Performance and polish

Just when you thought Dell Computer had taken over the world and servers had become pure commodity items, HP has taken server technology to the next level with its ProLiant line, acquired from Compaq last year. I reviewed two of the newest stars in the ProLiant family, the ProLiant DL560 and DL760, and was more than impressed. Performance junkies take note: These machines deliver.

The ProLiant DL560 is a 2U rack-mount unit that can be equipped with as many as four Xeon MP processors and nearly 300GB of internal storage. It provides excellent horsepower in a small, well-integrated form factor.

As fat as the DL560 is thin, the 7U ProLiant DL760 G2 requires a big chunk of rack space, but can be stuffed with eight Xeon MP processors and nearly 600GB of storage. It combines amazing horsepower with almost complete modularity and invulnerability.

I tested both ProLiant units in a slick, HP-supplied Model 10622 22U rack (the ProLiants will fit into any standard 19-inch rack).

The rack came with integrated power distribution, combining every server element’s 120-volt requirements into a single, three-phase line. The rack’s internal 12-port ProCurve 2650 switch to connect the servers to our test network and to interconnect every server in the rack with a sliding drawer keyboard and flat-screen display with the latest version of HP’s Insight Manager server-management software suite.

Scalable Slim-Jim

The ProLiant DL560 is a four-way Intel Xeon powerhouse with some interesting chipset features. My unit came configured with four 1.5GHz Xeon processors each holding 1MB of onboard L3 cache. It was also configured with 1GB of ECC (error-correcting code) SDRAM, expandable to 12GB. Dual 10/100/1000 embedded Ethernet ports were backed up by an additional BroadcomNetXtreme 10/100/1000 NIC for management purposes. Finally, the box sported a SmartArray 5i Plus RAID controller connected to dual 36.4GB Ultra3 hard disks, backed up by 64MB of controller-based cache. Hard disk storage capacity can grow to a total of 293.6GB should you opt for dual 146.8GB Ultra320 drives instead.

Although these specs are impressive, the server game is all about harnessing the hardware to provide targeted horsepower, and Windows 2000 Advanced Server can’t do that by itself.

To help squeeze maximum performance from the CPU, HP has turned to ServerWorks.

The DL560 uses Broadcom-owned ServerWorks’ Grand Champion LE chipset, engineered specifically for single processor to four-way Xeon systems. The ServerWorks chipset not only covers the CPU interface with an integrated 400MHz front-side bus, but also handles as much as 16GB of interleaved RAM as well as an I/O bridging interface capable of 3.2GBps transfer rates. The resulting performance is impressive, but I couldn’t help wondering what would happen to DL560 owners should ServerWorks ever go belly up.

One piece HP didn’t outsource was the management software. Compaq owners will be happy to know that HP is continuing development on Compaq’s venerable Insight Manager package. Insight Manager 7 SP2 comes bundled with all ProLiant machines and can act as a central management point for multiple ProLiant machines.

Overall, the DL560 proved a serious piece of server hardware. Using a Spirent-supplied Avalanche 2200 stress testing appliance to generate real-world application requests, I futilely tried to make the DL560 sweat. Not until I reached almost 1000 simultaneous scripted sessions did the ProLiant system show signs of being taxed.

Server with the Works

Just beneath the sleek DL560 in my rack sat the behemoth of the ProLiant bunch, the newly-upgraded ProLiant DL760 G2. Although the G2 stands for Generation 2, in fact this machine is the third iteration of a system born as the Compaq ProLiant 8500. HP is offering an upgrade option to owners of the 8500 and the previous DL760 model, allowing them to leverage a largely unchanged chassis.

And that upgrade may well be worth it. This 7U monster is equipped with everything in HP’s server R&D labs, including the kitchen sink.

My review unit came fully loaded with eight 2GHz Xeon CPUs, each equipped with 2MB of onboard cache as well as a massive 1GB of RAM.

Additionally, the box was equipped with dual 36.4GB Ultra3 hard disks connected to an integrated Smart Array 5i controller (just as in the DL560); this storage is expandable to 587.2GB, using four 146.8GB Ultra 3 disks.

Finally, for Gigabit Ethernet networking, you’ll find a 10/100/1000 HP NC7770 PCI-X Gigabit Server Adapter occupying a PCI expansion slot.

Presumably, HP has located it in the PCI slot to allow for hot swapping.

Of course, expandability is where the DL760’s 7U case really comes in handy. Whereas the DL560 provides decent expandability, handling three PCI-X slots in its 2U form factor, the DL760’s big, modular box holds no fewer than 11 64-bit PCI-X and PCI I/O expansion slots. Even better, they’re all hot swappable.

Both the DL560 and the DL760 sport dual hot-swappable power supplies, supporting fans organised into overlapping cooling zones. The DL760 also includes: hot-swappable I/O modules; redundant NICs; ASR-2 (automatic server recovery); remote, flash-capable, redundant ROMs; and in a new twist, hot-swappable RAM modules.

As you might expect, the DL760 nonchalantly chewed through our Avalanche scripting tests, quickly proving that on this system even a Gigabit Ethernet network interface will as likely as not wind up being the traffic bottleneck.

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