Server Vendors at CeBIT

by Drew Robb

From NEC to IBM, server vendors exhibiting at CeBIT focused on blades and high availability.

The Annual CeBIT show, which wrapped up this week in Hannover, Germany, attracts more than 400,000 people and 6,000 vendors each March. This year, the usual share of consumer, business software and telecom, and server specialists dominated the show — if you knew where to look.

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Almost 3 million square feet of exhibit spread across 30 halls made it tough to find the relevant booths. Hall 1, it turned out, was the place to be for the server set. Sun, IBM, Fujitsu and NEC all showed up in force; astonishingly, Dell and HP failed to appear.

The primary focus at this show — from a server perspective — was blades and high availability.

Fujitsu-Siemens Computers GmbH of Dusseldorf, Germany, stressed a high-availability approach for small and midsize enterprises (SME) that combines blades and failover capabilities. Known as X10sure, it is characterized as a high-availability IT infrastructure for SMEs that operates with Windows Server 2003 based blades and disk storage systems.

"X10sure offers near-enterprise levels of availability in a way that is better than clustering or virtualization," says Lothar Lechtenberg, PR manager of Fujitsu-Siemens Computers. "It can provide centralized storage coupled with agent-less server monitoring, automatic troubleshooting, automated server shutdown and reboot, and data protection.

In the sample configuration on the CeBIT exhibit floor, 10 blades were arranged as follows: one control blade, one hot spare and eight production blades. During a demo, one blade was removed. After a delay of about five minutes, the hot spare kicked in without user intervention or transactional loss.

Lechtenberg says X10sure is targeted at companies with 10 to 1,000 employees that have a need for high availability yet lack IT staff. He points out that instead of having five blades standing in a clustered architecture, you need only one hot spare. Further, the Fujitsu-Siemens system requires fewer software licenses.

It is populated with Fujitsu-Siemens BX620 or BX630 blades. The next generation will include the OEM's rack servers as well, says Lechtenberg. X10sure supports only Fibre Channel-based (FC) storage systems, although iSCSI will be added in the future. Currently, that means the Fujitsu FibreCAT SX80 and all EMX CX models.

Neck and NEC

Like Fujitsu-Siemens, NEC Computers Group of Puteaux cedex in France, stressed availability, complete with a demo that involved the removal of a critical component. This time, however, there was no five-minute wait. The system instantly failed over to another server.

Known as the NEC Express 5800/320 FB Fault Tolerant Server, it just hit the market and replaces the earlier 320 FA. The primary difference is that the newest edition includes a dual-core Intel chip.

"This high-availability server has all redundant components and is aimed at customers who cannot afford business interruption," says Thomas Luquet, business development manager at NEC Computers. "It provides a real-time switch to the redundant server without data loss or downtime."

This is accomplished via two separate modules that contain the CPU, memory, PCI slots and hard drives that permit data mirroring. Each module has its own power supply to ensure continuous operation, even if one module experiences a power cut. Everything is hot-swappable. Both server modules operate in lockstep mode, with continual synchronization between them. Further, it requires only one Windows Server 2003 OS license between the two modules.

"It is suited to remote sites that don't contain IT experts but can't afford downtime," says Luquet. "Total, one of the largest oil companies in the world, uses this system at its oil and gas depots, as it typically doesn't have any onsite computer technicians."

Sun on the Rise

Sun Microsystems mustered an impressive presence at the computer industry's biggest show — a multilevel affair manned by a cast of hundreds. The PR reps pointed out recent IDC numbers — year-to-year server market share growth of 1.5 percent, making Sun the fastest growing server vendor among the top five. Sun also had its Sun Blade 8000 modular system on display and the Sun Fire X4500 data server in live operation for the first time. Both boxes were attractively displayed within a glass-covered data center.

Gerhard Schlabschi, manager of product marketing at Sun, talked up its Sun Fire T1000 and T2000 servers with UltraSPARC T1 (also known as Niagara 1) processors and CoolThreads technology. He says this is the highest-throughput processor on the market with the lowest heat output. Sun plans to roll this architecture out across a larger segment of its product line.

"There are separate workloads involved in applications, data and networks," says Schlabschi. "Traditionally, all three work within the same architecture. We seek to change that."

A decade ago, he explains, the communications (encompassing networks and Web serving) represented a negligible workload. Today, however, it can account for around 60 percent. As a result of this explosion, most data centers contain hundreds of cheap white boxes for communication and Web serving, with utilization rates as low as 5 percent, says Schlabschi. This represents a considerable waste of power and space.

"Niagara 1 was all about this — CoolThreads servers have been dedicated mainly as communication servers," says Schlabschi. "It's the fastest ramping product we have ever had and gives 80 percent or more utilization as well as reduced complexity."

The plan now is to extend that technology into the data and application arena. When Niagara 2 appears in the second half of 2007, it will have added floating point capabilities that can span network and application workloads.

"When we release the Rock processor next year, it will also encompass the data side," says Schlabschi. "It will handle threads differently in terms of workloads."

This could have major repercussions on any data center running complex programs. Schlabschi explains that AMD and Intel chips are designed to be composed mainly of cache. But if there is a cache miss in a server, hundreds of CPU cycles are wasted and the box runs slow.

"We take a more intelligent approach that uses one thread to analyze code, spot problems and eliminate cache misses," says Schlabschi.

IBM Shows Off Everything

Unlike other exhibitors, IBM attempted to show off just about everything in its arsenal. It included servers from all five lines, its storage riches, systems, grids and services. The result was a monster of a booth about the size of a large city block and spanning three levels.

Uwe Witulski, marketing manager for IBM's systems and technology group based in Stuttgart, Germany, gave me a tour of the servers to show off the latest and greatest. He started with a large mainframe System z model and explained that IBM is now being more granular about its pricing.

"Instead of small, medium and large, we now offer more options and a wider range of price points on System z," says Witulski. "We have also recently released specialty processors, such as the zIIP for DB2 and the zAAP for Java workloads. They offer extra processing power, are cheaper than normal processors and software charges don't apply to these specific processors."

Next in the tour, came the System i 520. The model on display was attached to an IBM System x Windows-based server. According to Witulski, Windows systems can be managed via either cards or direct connections.

"The i5 OS protects Windows and the storage is managed by System I," says Witulski. "This offers high-availability features to customers running Windows within the i5 OS environment, and is a cheaper alternative to Microsoft clustering."

The System i 520 comes with 64-bit IBM POWER5+ processors, up to 32GB of memory and up to 278 hard drives (39TB). As well as Windows, it can run Linux and AIX systems.

Finally, IBM showcased its BladeCenter H chassis, which supports IBM blades, like the BladeCenter HS20, HS40, LS20, JS20 and JS21. Although BladeCenter H has been out for about a year, it boasts a couple of new features.

"Four new high-speed switches have been added — two on top and two at the bottom — for 10GbE or InfiniBand," says Witulski.

In addition, BladeCenter H has an expansion card dual-port FC and dual-port Ethernet. One card now offers four ports and two protocols. Before, it was one FC port and one Ethernet.

The latest IBM blade, the HS21 XM (Extended memory), fits inside the BladeCenter H chassis. It comes with eight DIMMS instead of four, a SAS hard drive (146GB maximum), up to 8MB Level 2 cache, and has two flavors: the dual Core Xeon LV 5148 (2.33 Ghz) and the quad-core Xeon E5345 (2.33 GHz).

There is also a 4GB flash drive option for the HS21 XM that can be used to boot the operating system rather than doing it from the hard drive or a SAN.

"You can boot the blade directly from flash drive very quickly and have blades without the need of an internal hard drive," says Witulski. "This enables you to use storage from elsewhere and is much cheaper to accomplish than booting from SAN."

This article was originally published on Friday Mar 23rd 2007
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