IBM unleashes 3U power on the enterprise

IBM continues to produce new servers that deliver greater value. The new xSeries 365 is clearly the next step in IBM's strategy, offering more performance, convenience, and scalability in a smaller package than its predecessor. The result is a server that can meet nearly any imaginable departmental need and fit well into many enterprise applications that once required more expensive servers and more resources to operate.

The x365 offers a long list of desirable server features. Although the unit I tested featured a pair of 2.5GHz Xeon processors, it can support up to four 3.0GHz Xeon MP processors. Unfortunately,those powerhouses weren't available for testing at press time. You can add up to six hot-swappable SCSI disk drives, for a maximum of 876GB internal storage. You can have up to 8GB of system memory. And that's just the start.

Other features you're likely to care about include a pair of 10/100/1000 embedded Ethernet ports, a tool-free chassis, redundant power supplies -- you get the idea.

IBM was clearly aiming at easy serviceability with the x365. A single lever releases the cover, and you're presented with an exceptionally clean interior. Main memory is shielded beneath a Plexiglas cover; expansion slots are wide open. Even processor replacement is handled without any tools. You can reach everything inside the chassis while the computer remains in its sliding rack mount.

Operation is handled in much the same way. Everything is on the front of the case. As you'd expect, you'll find the CD-ROM and floppy drives here, along with the six hot-swap hard disks. A nice touch is the front-mounted USB port, and an even nicer one is the swing-out status panel that emerges from just beneath the top cover.

Enterprise users will appreciate the remote manager, which allows you to monitor status of the server as well as control the operation remotely. Unlike some remote managers, this one works whether the server is powered on or off, and you can use the remote manager to power up the server.

IBM also included its Director package, a management console that can monitor many platforms at once. For some reason, Director couldn't determine the operating status of one of the two redundant power supplies. IBM attributed this to an error in Version 4.11 of the Director software, which has since been corrected in Version 4.12.

The remote manager didn't have that problem and recognized the power supply as being operational. It also told me what temperature it was operating at, the voltage levels it produced, and the speed of its fans. Except for the fact that the tested system came with a pair of 73GB Ultra SCSI 360 hard disks configured in RAID 1, this was close to a base system. The server can be ordered without drives, if you desire; however, the Ultra SCSI controllers are included in the base system.

As you'd expect from a system with such a minimal configuration, I had no issues related to heat or airflow. During testing, the system loafed along with optimum voltage levels and barely above the ambient temperature in the lab. We plan to stress this server in further testing once IBM supplies the faster Xeon MP processors. My limited testing in application server mode didn't stress it; I ran out of network bandwidth before I ran out of server capacity. However, this would change with applications that put greater demands on the processors. Likewise, some types of use, such as a busy Web server with SSL traffic, would probably tax the limited processor set in the tested machine. Fortunately, the x365 can be expanded far beyond the levels at which we tested. In fact, if you maxed out the processor, disk, and memory configurations, you would be entering territory far beyond that which is usually considered a departmental server.

IBM's x365 is impressive. Only a few other servers are available with more processors and only a couple with greater expandability. The capabilities in this 3U package are what most companies are likely to want on a single platform. Until, of course, the 4.0GHz Xeon MP comes out. Or SCSI drives take another bump in size. But for now this is as good as a standard departmental server gets.

Bottom line: This is a powerful, scalable server that is easy to manage, very serviceable, and cost effective. IBM has clearly gone through a great deal of effort to think of ways to simplify the life of the managers and technicians who must deal with servers on a daily basis.

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