Midrange, high capacity

Expanded platform options and increased power make midrange servers more attractive in the data center


1. Determine the server's primary function and specify the components to meet its needs. Will it be processorintensive, memory intensive, input/ output intensive?

2. If the server will be virtualized, make sure it will work with your existing virtual infrastructure. Many vendors offer servers with preinstalled virtualization software. For example, HP's ProLiant iVirtualization portfolio includes VMware ESX 3i, Microsoft Hyper-V Server and Citrix XenServer. Sun's Servers come with Solaris Containers and Logical Domains at no added cost.

3. If the server will primarily run a particular enterprise application, see if the vendor has servers preconfigured to run that app. Some offer servers set up to run Oracle, BEA, WebSphere or other applications, saving you the time of optimizing the server once it is installed.

4. Multithreaded and multicore processors can add a lot of computing power, but only if your applications can take advantage of the processor features. If not, single threading may give better performance.

5. Consider energy consumption. Manufacturers are improving their power consumption in relation to processing power, but because the new servers are also more powerful than their predecessors, total power consumption could rise.

GOLDILOCKS WAS RIGHT. Sometimes the one in the middle is just right.

Supercomputers are great for analyzing the global climate. And commodity servers are fine for Web serving. But when it comes to managing mission-critical database applications, nothing fits better than a good old midrange Unix box.

'Unix servers continue to be important platforms for mission-critical workloads, with advanced management capabilities and high [Remote Access Services] levels built into the server hardware,' said Jean Bozeman, an analyst at IDC.

That's the approach the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC) in Fort Belvoir, Va., takes in providing military and civilian customers with instant access to the latest research. On July 28, it launched DTIC Online (www.dtic.mil), which integrates the DTIC Web site, the Science and Technology Information Network (Stinet), and the DTIC MultiSearch federated search service. The new site can simultaneously search 20 million scientific and technical documents stored in databases worldwide.

Ricardo Thoroughgood, chief of Stinet's management division, said DTIC Online involves separate networks of midrange Sun Microsystems Sparc servers, which provide redundancy and load balancing for the Web pages, and FAST Search software capable of searching a dozen resources in DTIC. The system also uses a multitier system for Deep Web Technologies' Multisearch with a back-end MySQL database to collate and display the results across more than 300 resources in more than 20 countries.

DTIC also uses off-site availability and quality-of-service checking, working with Keynote Systems, which runs tests every 15 minutes from five cities to make sure the Web servers and search engines are operating properly.

'We've had some very good usage with more than a 100 percent increase in page views in some online resources,' Thoroughgood said. 'We are expanding resources available to our customers in DOD and all over the world.'

No news, but good news

There have not been earth-shaking changes in midrange servers recently, but they have seen incremental gains in performance, lower prices and lower power consumption, all making server consolidation much easier.

However, although Linux and Unix servers still lead the midrange market, the popularity of Intel-based servers is growing.

Hewlett-Packard, 'Dell, IBM and now Fujitsu all have four-way servers based on the same Intel designs,' said James Staten, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, adding that four-way servers could work well with large databases, large applications and server virtualization.

IBM introduced its Power6 processor in 2007, with twice the performance of its predecessor but without consuming any more electricity. Using a 65-nanometer manufacturing process, the dual-core Power6 fits 790 million transistors on a die, along with 8M of Level 2 cache. At the same time, IBM released the Power 570 server, which can support up to eight Power6 processors, 768G of RAM and 7.2T of internal storage ' up to 387T ' and up to 160 micro-partitions. The starting price is about $180,000.

More recently, IBM consolidated its System p (AIX/Linux) and System i (i5/OS) servers into a single Power Systems product line. All utilize Power6 processors running at speeds from 3.5 GHz to 5.0 GHz.

HP takes its cuts

HP offers several lines of midrange servers, including AlphaServer Systems for OpenVMS, higher-end ProLiant servers with quad-core AMD Opteron and Intel Xeon processors, and the Intel Itanium-based Integrity servers. Through the end of this year, you can still order the HP 9000 with PA-RISC processors.

HP offers built-in virtualization ' called iVirtualization ' on its ProLiant servers. Customers can select virtualization software from VMware, Citrix Systems or Microsoft.

Some of the biggest advances for HP servers, however, have been in blades, an area the company dominates with a 53.3 percent market share, according to IDC.

HP has introduced new software that allows up to 100 enclosures or 1,600 blade servers to be managed from a single console. It also released the four-socket Integrity BL870c. Designed for memory-intensive applications, the full-height blade has four dual-core Itanium processors.

Sun's new entries

Sun offers two new midrange server lines starting at $30,000. The Sun Sparc Enterprise M4000 and M5000 use up to eight Sparc64 dual- or quad-core processors. They replace the Sun Fire E2900, E4900, E6900, V490 and V890 servers, which Sun will stop selling in January.

Although Sun classifies its T2000 and T5000 series as entry level, some configurations push those models into the midrange. For example, the T2000 ranges from a $6,995 model to a $45,995 model with a different base configuration and additional cores and memory. Similarly, the dualprocessor T5240 has base configurations for $17,995 to $41,995. These servers have UltraSparc T2 eight-core processors and ' using Sun's CoolThreads technology ' can process up to eight threads per core, which means up to 128 threads simultaneously.

Sun has also introduced the UltraSparc T2 processors into its Netra line of carriergrade rack and blade servers. Mark Butler, Netra product line manager, said the servers are particularly useful for government and military applications requiring high throughput, such as command- and-control functions.

Agencies can purchase Netra servers with other SPARC and x64 processors.

Splitting the Sparc

Fujitsu sells two lines of midrange servers. The first, sold under the Sparc Enterprise name, are developed with Sun and use Sparc processors. They include the M4000 and M5000, which began using the quad-core Sparc64 VII processors in July. Fujitsu also offers CoolThreads servers for high-throughput applications.

Upgrades to the Sparc64 processors are expected in the next year. Fujitsu is developing an eight-core processor, code named Venus, using a 45-nanometer process. It will come with an embedded memory controller and be capable of 128 billion floating- point operations/sec. Sun, meanwhile, is working on a 16-core, 32-tread chip called Rock, scheduled to come out in about a year.

Fujitsu also has a line of servers with Intel processors. The Primequest 520A has eight Itanium processors and the 540A has 16. They run either Linux or Windows Server 2008.

Special forces

The vendors named above sell the vast majority of midrange servers, but there are other options. Dell offers the Intel Xeon PowerEdge R900 and AMD Opteron R905 servers. Both are 4U rackmount servers with up to four quad-core processors and optional virtualization software. They run Windows, Linux or Sun Solaris.

There are also vendors that specialize in servers to meet particular needs. Stratus Technologies, for example, focuses on continuous availability. The company has the ftServer V Series, which uses Intel Xeon processors with its OpenVOS operating system, and other models for use with Windows and Linux. These servers are used by the Federal Aviation Administration, Defense Department and other agencies for critical systems such as the National Airspace System.

When it comes time to refresh hardware, the smaller, more powerful, more efficient machines may provide a cost-efficient path for server consolidation or to move applications off of overloaded mainframes.


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