Performance and polish

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 48cm (19in) 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 which connects 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 Broadcom NetXtreme 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. This Broadcom-owned outfit provides alternative controller chipsets aimed at high-performance server apps.

The DL560 uses 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. The latest version improves monitoring and asset management capabilities.

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. And with an attractive price tag of $US13,846 (as tested), the DL560 is as affordable as it is capable.

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. You can expand this baby to your heart’s content.

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.

HP calls this last feature RAID RAM, and it simply comprises 1GB worth of DIMM-based “RAID” embedded on a hot-swappable RAM card. That means the system can take as much as 5GB of total RAM, each on its own card, but will address only 4GB, saving the last 1GB for RAID-style striping purposes. Each module is also equipped with LED trouble indicators on the front of the chassis. This new feature adds to the DL760’s RAM costs, but the extra cost is more than worth it in terms of increased reliability and availability.

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. Even when bombarded by more than 1800 simultaneous application-serving sessions, the DL760 kept chugging along. Only when we exceeded 2000 simultaneous sessions did the system begin showing signs of stress.

Sure, you can get a decent four-way, 2U server box from Dell or some other lower-cost vendor for far less than the price of the DL760 — $US50,328 — or even of the DL560 I tested. But considering the redundancy features and excellent performance, not to mention the surprisingly capable Insight Management software, HP’s higher price tag is more than worth the cost.

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