Big Little Server

Good things still come in small packages. Compaq Computer Corp.'s ProLiant 6400 is an enterprise server in a rack-mount form factor. It earned a 9.3 score in our testing, with the best combination of performance and features of any enterprise class server we have tested so far.

The 6400 isn't the best-performing server we've tested in all performance categories, but its high-performance RAID controller and small form factor make it an attractive offering.

The 6400 earned a respectable 8.4 score for overall performance. Its SQL database test score is the best we've seen among all the servers we've reviewed, probably due to the server's four 500-MHz processors with 2M bytes of L2 cache and 2G bytes of system RAM.

But the file serving score of 7.5 was merely good. That's surprising considering the inclusion of Compaq's new Smart Array 4200 RAID controller, a four-channel Ultra2 SCSI 64-bit PCI adapter with a Reduced Instruction Set Computing-based architecture. The controller cache was large at 64M bytes, but the one server we tested that had better file test scores, Dell's PowerEdge 6350, had a 128M-byte disk controller cache, which may explain the performance difference.

The network score of 7.7 was only good. The 6400 has two dual-port Fast Ethernet network interface cards (NIC). It seems that Compaq failed to optimally tune the Novell NIC driver as well as the NT driver, resulting in lower scores.

The server itself takes up just four rack spaces. It sports two hot-swappable fans on the front and a four-slot 1-inch single connector attachment hot-swappable drive bay. The CD-ROM drive is a thinner laptop-type drive to conserve space.

Along with the server came a Compaq StorageWorks Enclosure Model 4214 external disk array. The 4214 is an impressive box that takes up three spaces in a 19-inch rack. It includes 14 1-inch hot-swap slots, and our unit came fully loaded with 14 9.1G-byte 10K-rpm Ultra2 SCSI drives. All the drives were configured on one RAID 0 string.

Those 127G bytes of storage were controlled by the Smart Array 4200 RAID controller, a new offering from Compaq. The 4200 supports 64M bytes of battery-backed cache; the batteries and cache are on a removable daughterboard.

The battery can maintain the cache for as long as four days, allowing you to move the battery and cache daughterboard to a new 4200 array controller in the event of a failure. The 4200 has four external and two internal SCSI connectors for flexible connections to drive arrays, and supports online RAID-level migration, online capacity expansion, online drive spare, automatic array rebuilding and hard disk error scanning.

The ProLiant 6400 has a good list of availability features. The dual load-balancing hot-swappable power supplies provide redundancy in case one of the power supplies fails. The hot-pluggable drive slots, along with the availability features of the 4200 RAID controller, provide redundancy and a short repair time if there is a failure in the disk subsystem. The two redundant system fans can be hot-swapped in the event that one or both fails.

The 6400 scored a 10 for features, thanks to its 64-bit hot-swap-ready PCI slots, 4200 RAID controller features and large number of drive slots.

Compaq has done a good job with manageability. Compaq Insight Manager, Insight Manager XE and the optional Remote Insight Board give you a lot of tools to remotely and locally manage the 6400 from the Web, with SNMP or with Desktop Management Interface (DMI).

Compaq Insight Manager monitors the hardware components and reports monitored values to many popular management platforms. Insight Manager XE, which began shipping in July, includes a set of agents to be loaded on the server so that it can be managed using SNMP, DMI or HTTP. The agent includes a small Web server that lets you access server management functions from a browser anywhere on the Web, as well as its own console application for local or remote management over the Web.

For remote management, the server comes with an Integrated Remote Console which, in combination with a modem, gives you remote access to the server.

Compaq also offers an optional Remote Insight Board, which includes a modem for monitoring the server remotely. The Remote Insight Board stays up even if the server fails.

Service features were great in the 6400, too. The case provides good accessibility to all the internal components. The internals are arranged in a modular fashion, and each of the modular components is easy to replace. The internal components can all be removed and replaced without tools, but entry into the case requires Torx or small slotted screwdrivers.

The 6400, along with the Compaq SmartArray 4200 and 4214 array enclosure, packs a lot of power and flexibility into a small package. The unit is rich in management features and easy to service. All in all, the 6400 is a good performer in a great package.

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