Mar 30, 2009 (08:03 AM EDT)
Fresh Crop Of Intel Nehalem Servers On Way
Read the Original Article at InformationWeek
Major computer makers are making sure there's no shortage of servers powered by Intel's latest Nehalem processors, but despite the abundance, there's not a huge difference in hardware and buyers should pay closer attention to the software inside the systems.
Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Lenovo, and Sun Microsystems are among the vendors launching products at the same time Intel officially introduces Nehalem EP server processors, which are based on a new microarchitecture with an integrated memory controller for better performance. The Nehalem variant, known as Core i7, for high-end desktops and workstations was launched late last year.
Over the last week, vendors have been vying for media attention with embargoed news conferences and press releases to make the case for their respective products. But despite the many benchmarks vendors are showing to prove faster performance than competitors' systems, there's actually not a whole lot of difference on the hardware level, analysts say.
"We're getting down to literally microseconds of difference in terms of performance and power," Andi Mann, analyst for Enterprise Management Associates, told InformationWeek.
Nevertheless, all the vendors are claiming significant performance boosts over previous generations of servers, which make the latest products better for virtualization. This means IT managers can reduce the overall number of servers in a data center by running more business applications in a single system.
Where vendors have their best chance to differentiate their new products is in the software that ships with their servers, particularly the system management applications. Tools that ease the task of provisioning software across servers, provide notification when there's a problem, monitor power usage, and offer other management features are more likely to attract the attention of potential buyers.
That fact is not lost on the vendors. Hewlett-Packard on Monday introduced the ProLiant G6 line of 11 Nehalem EP-powered tower, rack, and blade servers, the largest ProLiant rollout ever.
Among the key system management features is energy efficiency. HP has added sensors across the line that automatically adjusts system components such as fans, memory, and input/output processing to the workload. In addition, IT managers can cap the power drawn by individual servers.
HP for the first time is bundling its Insight Control Environment management console with a whole line of ProLiant systems. The software makes it possible to manage and monitor G6 server infrastructure on-site or remotely. HP services or channel partners can leverage the technology in providing customers with remote management.
HP also is introducing across the G6 line its Virtual Connect Flex-10 Ethernet module, an interconnect technology that allocates the bandwidth of a 10 Gigabit Ethernet network port across four network interface card connections. The technology reduces the amount of network equipment used in support of virtualization environments.
The HP ProLiant G6 platforms are based on Intel Xeon 5500 processors, the official name for the Nehalem EP chips, and include the DL380, DL 370, DL360, DL180, and DL160 rack-mount servers; the BL490c, BL460c, and BL280c blade servers; and the ML370 and ML150 tower servers. The DL360, DL370, and BL280c are scheduled to be available in the coming weeks, and the remaining products are available now. Starting prices for the G6 line range from $999 to $2,105.
Dell is introducing 14 products on Monday, including Nehalem EP-based PowerEdge servers, along with a refreshed line of EqualLogic storage arrays.
Dell plans to offer a single software console that customers can use to conduct a host of tasks, such as managing server hardware and virtualized environments, diagnostics, operating system monitoring, and application updates. The software, which is based on Symantec's Altiris system management technology, essentially takes what used to be nine separate consoles and consolidates them onto one pane, according to Dell.
The other big improvement is the embedding of all pre-deployment drivers, management tools, update, and rollback utilities and more in flash memory within the server. This eliminates the need to ship each computer with a half dozen disks that IT staff would use to install the software. Once the hardware is configured by the customer, the data is stored in memory and can be uploaded to Dell as backup and easier deployment on new systems. In addition, Dell could use the information to deliver future systems with custom settings.
Among the products Dell is introducing are the T610 two-socket tower, the R610 and R710 two-socket rack-mount computers, and the M610 and M710 blades. The rack servers are a "sweet box" for virtualization and the blades are for "hyper-scale environments," said Sally Stevens, director of Dell's PowerEdge product group. Pricing hasn't been disclosed.
IBM is introducing two Nehalem EP-based System x servers -- the x3650 M2 and x3550 M2 -- as well as the BladeCenter HS22 blade and the System x iDataPlex dx360 M2 rack server. In the second quarter, IBM plans to launch two Nehalem tower servers.
Along with the hardware, IBM announced the Systems Director 6.1 software, which manages physical and virtual resources across servers via a Web-based interface. IBM also has an Integrated Management Module that supports remote monitoring and management of components, diagnostics, and repair.
Lenovo is launching the 1U ThinkServer RD210 rack server for small and medium-sized businesses, and Sun Microsystems is extending support of its Solaris 10 and OpenSolaris operating systems to Nehalem EP.
While not specifically tied to Nehalem, Cisco a couple of weeks ago announced plans for a new series of blade server products that include storage capabilities along with virtualization and server management software. These systems also are expected to include Nehalem EP chips.
Cisco's Unified Computing System assembles a formidable alliance of vendors to offer Cisco's vision of the data center of the future. The vendors include BMC Software, Citrix Systems, EMC, Intel, Microsoft, SAP, and VMware.
Cisco's management tools are likely to be the weakest because they're so new, Mann said. However, in general, all the vendors have strong offerings. "If any one vendor was clearly inferior, it wouldn't be in business," he said.
In addition, the vendors provide the technology for plugging servers into each other's consoles for performing most major management tasks. Exceptions typically include tasks that involve low-level hardware control, such as the provisioning of virtualization hardware, Mann said.