Rank-and-file servers

Low-end systems still do most of the grunt work for your agency, but suppliers offer improved performance<@VM>Resources

Match the server to applications. Does it need a lot of local storage, or will it boot off a storage-area network? Is it memory- or compute-intensive? Specify the disk size, speed, processor and memory, taking future growth needs into account.

Make sure the server is appropriate for its physical environment: rack-mount and blade servers for data centers, silent tower servers for office spaces.

Balance customization and standardization. Buying the ideal server for a particular application can give you better performance for the initial outlay, but having to train staff to support an excessive number of server types and keep more spare parts in inventory adds to the overall cost of ownership. Standardization also makes it easier to manage a virtualized environment.

Determine how servers will be managed. Find out if your existing management software, including backup and security, will require any customization to support the server.

Get real performance data. The vendor's specs won't necessarily tell you how the server will perform with your applications. For example, if your application isn't designed to take advantage of multiple cores or 64-bit processors, it may only achieve a fraction of the published throughput.

For a list of resources, go to GCN.com/1109.

In the military, the big ships, planes and super-fast fighters get all the press. In the realm of information technology, it's supercomputers. The Energy Department's Argonne National Laboratories just dedicated its new Leadership Computing Facility in April, which will house the 556-teraflop Intrepid supercomputer. And a National Nuclear Security Administration supercomputer named Roadrunner made news last week when it hit 1 petaflop.

However, most of the real work is done in the trenches by racks of anonymous file/print, Web and application servers. According to IDC, the installed base of high-end servers in this country dropped one-third from 33,000 in 1996 to 22,000 in 2005. In that same period, volume servers grew nearly sevenfold, from 1.47 million to 9.89 million. For every top-brass server, there were 450 grunts in 2005 compared to just 45 in 1996. And that gap continues to grow. IDC statistics for 2007 show that 7.6 million x86 server units were shipped out of a total 8 million servers, an 8.3 percent increase over the previous year.

They might not be as sexy as a new Cray or BlueGene, but it still pays to keep up with rank-and-file servers. That's why we decided to take a look at what the top five server vendors have done at the lower end of their lines.


Hewlett-Packard, which led the x86 market last year with a 35 percent share, added six new servers to its ProLiant line. The ProLiant DL185 is a low-cost, two-processor, 2U server designed for storage-intensive applications and scale-out storage architectures for e-mail, messaging and enterprise resource planning applications. The DL185 G5 is a dual-processor server with Advanced Micro Devices Opteron dual- or quad-core processors and as much as 32G of RAM. HP also offers several options for cutting power consumption.

'All the new DL 100 series servers offer an optional high-efficiency power supply that is up to 90 percent efficient at 80 percent load,' said Krista Satterthwaite, an HP ProLiant product manager. 'Low-wattage quad-core Intel Xeon 7300 Series processors enable greater density to provide excellent performance- per-watt efficiencies for power-constrained IT environments.'

The ProLiant line includes rack-mount, stand-alone and blade servers with one to eight processors. In addition to the Opteron and Xeon CPUs, customers can select AMD Athlons and Intel Pentium-D, Core2, Celeron and Itanium processors.


IBM has introduced several new products in its System X line, which uses the Intel Xeon Series 7000 processors, and released the fourth generation of its x86 chipsets ' the eX4. The System x3350, which starts at about $1,500, is a single-socket, 1U model designed for hosting e-mail, collaboration, Web serving and Java applications.

'It's ideal for deployments where users require a dedicated server, the application vendor doesn't support virtualization or the application doesn't scale to take advantage of multiple sockets,' said Jay Bretzmann, manager of IBM System X offerings.

Other new System X servers include the x3250 M2 for edge-of-network and space-constrained office applications and the x3200 M2, a single-socket distributed enterprise server. IBM also released the higher-end x3850 M2 and x3950 M2 models. They come with an internal USB interface for plugging in a 4G USB flash storage device preloaded with virtualization software. They also include the new eX4 chipsets.

The 'eX4 technology, found in the x3950 M2 and x3850 M2, enables richer x86 server configurations to fuel the growth of virtualization on high-end systems,' Bretzmann said. 'A unique embedded hypervisor capability will allow clients to more easily adopt virtualization.'


Low-end servers are a sideline for some vendors, but they are big business for Dell.

'Dell's business strategy thrives on standardization and mass volumes, and its sweet spot has been the 1- and 2-socket server segments,' IDC analyst Jed Scaramella said.

The PowerEdge T105 (AMD) and PowerEdge SC440 (Intel) are both single-socket, dual-core tower servers for file/print, e-mail, Internet access and Web server functions with prices starting at $500.

The 1U rack-mounted PowerEdge SC1435 starts at $749 with a dual-core AMD Opteron processor, 1G of RAM and an 80G hard drive. In April, Dell started offering AMD's quad-core Opteron processors on its PowerEdge SC1435, 2970 and M605 servers, delivering a potential 79 percent performance boost over dual-core Opterons on those models.


Sun Microsystems was late to join the x86 field, but it now offers a range of entry-level and midrange servers. At the low end is the Sun Fire X2100 M2 Server, which starts at $1,189. The 1U rack-mount server uses a single AMD Operton 1200 Series dual-core processor (1.8 GHz to 2.8 GHz), as much as 8G of RAM and two hot-pluggable Serial Attached SCSI or Serial Advanced Technology Attachment II disk drives. The 2U Sun Fire X4200 M2, $2,435 and up, has a maximum of two dual-core Opterons, 32G of RAM and four 2.5-inch SAS drives. Both servers run Windows, Solaris or Linux.

The company also offers some low-end reduced instruction-set computing servers using the UltraSparc T1 processor with its CoolThreads chip multithreading technology. The 1U Sun Fire T1000 server, $2,795 base price, for example, uses a six- or eight-core 1.0 GHz T1 processor with as many as 32 simultaneous-processing threads and only consumes 72 watts of power. It comes with built-in virtualization software to take advantage of the multiple threads.

'We calculate that only 15 percent of the T1000 CPU processor cycles go unused, which compares very favorably to the 85 percent of wasted cycles from competitive processors,' said Sun Executive Vice President John Fowler.

The CoolThreads processors run Solaris or Linux.


Although most of the servers discussed in this article are geared for data centers or server rooms, Fujitsu Computer Systems has upgraded its small, stand-alone server, the Primergy TX120, for use in small branch offices or departments. The low-power, compact ' 4 inches by 13 inches by 16 inches ' low-noise servers can function as an application server for 20 users, a file/print server for as many as 50 or an e-mail server for 200 users. It can also be used for basic server tasks such as Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol.

'All of the major vendors are creating [Server Message Block]-friendly products in both blade and tower form factors,' Gartner analyst John Enck said. 'As represented by the thermal and acoustic characteristics of the TX-120, these products are designed to fit well into non-data center spaces.'

The TX120 starts at $1,058 for a 2 GHz Celeron processor, 512M of RAM, DVD-RW and 73G SAS drive. A higher-end version, with a dual-core Xeon 3070, 2G of RAM, DVD-RW drive and 146G SAS drive costs $3,700. For greater reliability, two 2.5-inch storage drives can be mirrored using Redundant Array of Independent Disks 1. The server comes with a remote- management chip for installations lacking onsite IT staff members.

To reduce size, power consumption and noise, Fujitsu aligned all the heat-producing components along a linear heat pipe. Each end has a temperature-controlled fan that operates in a push/pull arrangement.

'These servers combine large-diameter fans, straight-through airflow design and advanced modeling techniques to optimize server cooling,' said Richard McCormack, Fujitsu's senior vice president of marketing. 'This combination allows air to flow easily through the server, which saves energy because fans do not have to work so hard.'

Energy Star servers

A final point to consider is the energy efficiency of servers. The Energy Star program is working on the second draft of a product specification for servers. The initial spec will deal with volume servers.

'Our preliminary analysis suggests that we would not go above four-processor servers,' said Andrew Fanfare, product development team leader at the Environmental Protection Agency, who is working on the specification.

He said EPA will host a stakeholder meeting at its Regional Office 10 in Seattle in early July and plans to have the final specification completed by the end of this year or early 2009. He urged agencies to join the discussion.

'They are going to be compelled to purchase Energy Star servers'once that category is defined,' he said. 'We need federal facilities to step up and participate in the program.'

Dell PowerEdge Servers


Fujitsu Primergy Servers


Hewlett Packard ProLiant Servers


IBM System x Servers


Sun CoolThreads Servers


AMD Processor Specification Comparison


Intel Server Processors


Energy Star Server Program


White Paper

Estimating Regional Power Consumption by Servers: A Technical




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