Archive for the ‘Servers’ Category.

Delivery times from a variety of manufacturers

Currently, i’m still waiting for my copy of 5722-QU2, aka Web Query. We’ve ordered it over a month ago, and have received the keys in the meanwhile, but no media. While IBM does theoretically offer media download, it does not do so for 5722-QU2 (Wondering where you can download i5/OS media? IBM ESS).

The fact that i haven’t got any interesting project running right now, and IBM isn’t shipping me new toys i just decided to complain about delivery times. This might not actually be interesting.

When it comes to delivery times, my experience with IBM has always been abysmal. The local swiss distributors (Avnet, TechData, Also) are usually low on stock, don’t have any System i stock (automatically giving you 2-8 weeks, depending on IBM’s mood). Software orders also take ages, especially additional software on new Systems (we usually buy 5722-IP1 for our customers to generate PDF). These software orders usually take 2+ weeks after the system was shipped.

Even System x servers are rather hard to come by. While there are usually a few (less than 5) models on stock, additional parts (like disks, memory) are sometimes out of stock too. Out of stock articles usually take up to three weeks.

The situation is even worse with IBM printers – no stock anywhere, and delivery times are 4+ weeks.

Other manufacturers understand their supply chain even for smaller countries like Switzerland. One of the good examples here is HP. You usually have many servers plus parts available on stock – every reasonable printer model (less than 10k) is also available on stock. Microsoft doesn’t have any problem shipping their licenses (one or two days for electronic licenses), and shipping time for media kits is a simple next business day thing.

Why can’t IBM get their act straight and have their (expensive) stuff available on a simple next business day basis?

It’s hard to sell a customer an IBM printer if you have to tell him that it takes several weeks until he gets it. Most smaller businesses don’t buy maintenance contracts for their printers, and just buy a new one when the old one dies – this doesn’t work when you have 4 weeks of lead time for a simple InfoPrint 1532.

One thing i would be interested in: Is this better in the USA? Or in Germany?

IBM System x3200

System x3200 Tower Front
We’ve just received a new System x3200, to serve as an infrastructure hub for our POS software at a Small Business customer. Unlike all other machines i’ve talked about before (HP DL320 G5, System x3650 vs. HP DL380 G5, System x3250, System x3650), this machine is a tower model. With IT moving more and more towards a professional service subset, tower machines are getting less and less common, but many small businesses do not see the return on investment a rack mounted server will give them. As such, IBM still produces a few decent System x servers in the tower form factor.

The x3200 brother is the rackmounted System x3250. Both of them are IBM’s low end entry systems. The x3200 we sold to our customer was one of more well endowed models, featuring redundant power supplies and hot plug SAS disks.

The disks come in a standard 3.5″ form factor, there are no 2.5″ models available (which makes sense, as towers are not really space constrained, which is clearly visible when looking at the x3200 bulky frame).

The exact configuration ordered:

  • System x3250 Xeon 2.13Ghz DC, with 2×512MB Base Memory, 3.5″ HP SAS, redundant PSU
  • 2x 72GB 10kRPM SAS

Unpacking and opening

System x3200 Backside
The machine was shipped in a box where you’d have thought it contains a 5 year old desktop PC, meaning it was a bit bigger than the Lenovo ThinkCentre tower shipping boxes. As always, removing the machines from these boxes is not as fun when you’re alone, because the styropor sticks to the machine.

Another thing to note is that the machine shipping without any power cables, which is normally not the case. But this might’ve been a mixup at our distributor.

The machine itself is big and bulky (exactly as it looks on the photos), but the case is very well done, much better than the xSeries 226 had. Everything is tool less, and the opening mechanisms for the front and side cover work nicely, and fit like a glove when putting them back on.

Interiors

System x3200 insides
Even though this is a budget machine, the interior is done rather well. The cables are packed together nicely, and the system has room for expansion. 4x 3.5″ HP SAS disk trays, 3 PCI slots, 2 PCI-E Slots (1x, 4x). The LSI Logic SAS RAID Controller is mounted directly on the mainboard, saving expansion slots. Again, this machine only accepts 4 DIMMs, which aren’t that accessible. But this isn’t a huge problem, as maintenance on tower models has always been awkward and finicky – that’s what rack servers are for.

The machine isn’t quiet, but it isn’t loud either. I wouldn’t mind having it in my office, the noise is not a high pitched scream like you usually get from a 1U rack server. There is no inline documentation like IBM usually provides with their rack mount servers, and there’s no LightPath diagnostics either. That’s perfectly normal for this price.

What isn’t usual for this price class is the fact that this machine has redundant power supplies. While this is the norm for more expensive servers, it isn’t for entry level servers. The redundant power supplies do not cost a lot more than the normal model, and it’s always nice to have redundant power (as UPSes account for a large number of power failures, at least here in Switzerland).

Installing options

System x3200 disk cover
We only got a few disks with the machine, and installing them was a breeze. They are hid behind an easily openable lid, and come in a standard IBM hotplug mounting tray.

The machine we received had horrible outdated firmware, so the first step was to get everything up to speed. This worked fine with an USB floppy drive, as IBMs Update CD’s weren’t current (again). I still think there should be some method that does all this whole box-update thing via the internet. Not sure how this could be implemented without astronomic cost, but i still want it.

System x3200 with mounted SAS HP Disks
The Onboard LSI Logic RAID Controller supports mirroring and striping, and brings it’s own horrible management software – it’s not an IBM ServeRAID family controller. I didn’t even find a way to automatically send mails in case of a disk failure.

Booting the server

We’ve installed Windows Server 2003 R2 SP2 on this machine, not using the ServerGuide procedure. Again, the install went through without any problems after supplying the LSI Logic driver on an USB floppy. I’m still waiting for Windows Server 2008 which will make this a lot easier with it’s Windows PE 2.0 based installer.

As far as my first impressions went, the disk performance is very good. It’s quite noticeable if you use 10kRPM SAS disks against 7.2kRPM SATA disks.

Resumee

Even though it’s a budget machine, the build quality and the features of the System x3200 are quite impressive (i really, really liked two PSUs in such a small machine). I still don’t like tower machines, but the System x3200 is worth it’s money if you don’t have a rack at a given location. The system is very well designed, and could even serve as a small business server for a very small business.

Also, the obligatory plug to DATALINE AG which sells this server and other IBM System x or System i servers.

Replacing the Systemboard in a HP DL140 G2

DL140 G2 Northbridge Cooler and PinIn a conclusion to yesterdays post about a broken northbridge cooler in a HP DL140 G2, i got a replacement System Board shipped overnight by HP. Mostly because the customer decided that he didn’t need an On-Site carepak from HP.

So i got stuck with a probably refurbished systemboard, and instruction sheets on how to replace them. I’ve also made better pictures of the missing pin, and the whole replacement procedure. Unfortunately due to the digital camera which seems to be over 9000 years old, and the low light situation, the pictures weren’t that much better.

One thing that irked me though is what the HP rep said to me yesterday. He estimated shipping at “one or two weeks”, which is far too long for replacement parts of a still more or less modern server. On the other hand, the parts arrived today with overnight shipping from around the world. It seems that HP does better than their reps say.

HP DL140 G2 Northbridge with missing Pin showingReplacing the systemboard in a DL140 G2 is not as bad as one might think it is. While there are several screws to unscrew, and of course the processor replacement itself, i never had a problem during this procedure. Only one thing i wasn’t sure with – HP’s docs stated that i had to empty my entire syringe worth of thermo conductive paste onto the processor. I did that, and the processor temperature seems to be okay now.

HP DL140 G2 and the missing Northbridge cooler

I’ve had interesting problems today with a HP DL140 G2. The machine crashed, and it wasn’t possible to bring it back online using the integrated iLO 100. The iLO 100 had no problems in it’s event logs.

Broken Northbridge Cooler on a HP DL140 G2I restarted the machine a few times, and the machine brought the message that a critical error was encountered, and the system thus halted – right after the BIOS welcome screen. I tried to enter the BIOS, but failed a few times. The third one worked, and i looked at the event log in the BIOS. There were several error messages regarding voltage, but they were over a year old. I deleted all error messages, rebooted the machine until it halted again, and then entered the BIOS again. This time, there was an error Message regarding ECC Memory being defective.

I turned the machine off, set it on a table, and opened it. The problem was obvious immediately: The Northbridge cooler no longer was attached to the Northbridge. A tiny little metal nook which held the cooler in place was not found immediately – it was later located in the RAM slots.

I’m sure that i am the first and only person who opened this machine in the last few months. The Northbridge cooler obviously broke off by itself, indicating cheap manufacturing as being the problem.

The Holding Nudge of a DL140 G2This machine is a year old by now. Warranty expires tomorrow. Luckily we’ve opened a case today, and hope we can get a fix soon. I’m very interested on how this plays out with HP.

000-074 System x Windows 2000/2003 Installation and Performance Optimization

IBM Exam 000-074 is part of IBM’s Certified Systems Expert certification program. As with the similar HP0-055, the focus was a bit different than your usual Microsoft exams.

When first looking at the specs for this exams, i found the required passing score to be very low: 59%. HP’s exam had a passing score of 71%. As such, i expected a very difficult the exam, but that wasn’t the case.

This exam focused on three points:

  • Normal, hardware neutral Windows/Networking Knowledge
  • IBM Director Knowledge
  • IBM System x hardware knowledge (especially of bigger products like the System x3850)

I’ve passed this exam with an okay score, but was guessing at almost all the IBM Director and the System x hardware knowledge. The problem here is that neither IBM Director nor 4 socket machines are being used in the small businesses i work for. The fact that i still passed shows that good guessing can give you lots of points, because the answers are sometimes rather obvious.

There was also a good deal of normal Windows Knowledge required, and several very very basic Networking questions, which could probably be answered by your average gamer kid. If you already hold an MCSE/MCSA on Windows Server 2003, you might be able to pass this exam without having touched an IBM server before.

Even though this may sound bad, i though the exam in it’s whole made a lot of sense. Most questions where detailed, and the answers where short an concise. Again, for several questions you had to know what the limitiations of a given IBM hardware platforms are. I still don’t really like this, because i don’t deal with every piece of System x hardware IBM has to offer (even though i’d like to know, that’s currently not the case).

As expected, there were many performance tuning questions which were usually answerable with general IT knowledge. You’ll just need to know which system performance values indicate what kind of performance bottleneck.

Layer One – More power outages than my server at home

Layer One had another power outage this night, at around ~03:00.

Again, i have no idea why, and there is no information from Layer One available yet, but we can rest assured that they will state some nonsense again. As things are right now, i can only recommend against choosing Layer One for your colocation needs. They’re obviously unable to ensure even basic things like power delivery, which is a lot worse at Layer One than it is here, at home, without an UPS, directly on the power grid.

IBM x3650 or HP DL380 G5

Disclaimer: I currently work for an IBM Business Partner.

I’ve written about the IBM x3650 before, and i’m generally very fond of this machine as it’s build quality and features are impressive.

However i’ve heard from several customers that they want the similar Model from HP, the DL380 G5, with the only reasoning being that the machine is going to be less expensive.

I’ve configured two almost-identical servers, and the price difference is clearly there. Please note that the configuration of the two machines is not the same, mostly due to real world restrictions in the Small Business segment when ordering machines. These restrictions are here in Switzerland – they might not exist in your country, and they might have changed in a few months. So take this with a grain of salt.

The configuration for these machines are thought to serve a Small Business with Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2.

Configurations

IBM System x3650

IBM System x3650
Configuration:

  • Intel Xeon DualCore – 2.00 GHz
  • 4 GB Memory (2×1 GB, 4x512MB)
  • 4 x 147 GB SAS 2.5″ 10kRPM HP Disks
  • RAID-Controller ServeRAID 8k 256MB BBWC
  • DVD-ROM 24x/8x built-in
  • PCI-X Raiser Card
  • PCI-X SCSI U320 Adapter for tape drives
  • Builtin Ethernet-Adapter Gigabit; 2x RJ-45 Copper
  • Remote Supervisor Adapter II
  • Redundant PSU
  • 36 Months Warranty on-site NBD

Total list price: 9500 CHF
Warranty Upgrade to 7×24: 1000 CHF

Total: 10500 CHF

HP DL380 G5

HP DL380 G5
Configuration:

  • Intel Xeon DualCore – 2.66 GHz
  • 4 GB Memory (2×2 GB)
  • 4 x 147 GB SAS 2.5″ 10kRPM HP Disks
  • RAID-Controller P400 256MB BBWC
  • DVD-ROM 24x/8x built-in
  • PCI-E SCSI U320 Adapter
  • Builtin Ethernet-Adapter Gigabit; 2x RJ-45 Copper
  • iLO Advanced License
  • Redundant PSU
  • 36 Months Warranty on-site NBD

Total list price: 7000 CHF
Warranty Upgrade to 7×24: 1450 CHF

Total: 8450 CHF

Conclusions

Okay, so we have a pretty major price difference between those two machines. The HP machine costs 20% less than the IBM machine. These prices don’t apply when you buy them by the truckload, but they do when you buy one or two.

Objective differences

About the IBM System x3650:

  • 12 instead of 8 memory slots available
  • No PCI-E slots needed to drive integrated disks (ServeRAID has a seperate slot)
  • RSA II offers integrated email functionality (great advantage when not using IBM Director)
  • Space for integrated tape drive (I’ve never used those, though)
  • PCI-X raiser needed for U320 attachment
  • Way better fan redundancy (N+N instead of N+1)

About the HP DL380 G5:

  • 20% less expensive than IBM
  • Greater choice on disk adapters
  • iLO is standard, though KVM/Media functionality must be licensed
  • More flexible memory ordering options
  • U320 adapters with PCI-E is available – no PCI-X raiser card needed
  • One slot always occupied by disk adapter (However, the machine has 5 PCI-E slots, the IBM has only 4)
  • Less memory slots available

Unobjective differences

About the IBM System x3650:

  • It’s black. Black is cool.
  • The LightPath diagnostics seem much more mature than HPs new diagnostic system
  • The RSA II offers an older GUI, but more features than the iLO Advanced License at a lower price point
  • Rack mount kit looks more sturdy and generally better than the HP one

About the HP DL380 G5:

  • Legacy PS/2 ports still available
  • The front looks way better, but it’s not black

Final conclusions

Make up your own. I’ve tried to be as truthful as possible, and both machines have advantages and disadvantages. Usually the choice is already made if a customer already works with a given brand. Both vendors have pushed for different feature sets and their machines, and this shows quite clearly. The IBM machine is more expensive, and the additional capacity might not have much worth in your company. It really depends on your needs and your budget. Both machines are cool, though.

HP DL320 G5

DL320 G5 FrontThe DL320 is HP’s low end rackserver, similar to IBM’s System x3250, which i reviewed earlier.

This machine was purchased for use in a colocation center as a general web and mailserver for non-profit purposes, using Debian GNU/Linux 4.0. As such, there were serious budget constraints involved, which is why the machine chosen is on the lowest end of available (rack) hardware – as such, the machine doesn’t have a diagnostic panel (like HP’s DL360 G5 do, or IBM’s x3550 or x3650).

DL320 G5 Disks
The machine was ordered using the new ALSO IVIS HP TopConfig configurator, and as such was shipped assembled (the delivery time was 9 days). Most in-stock articles have builtin CD or Diskette drives, which are a factor in price. With configured machines, you can save a few bucks with these things, and also get a better memory configuration (this is very important in low end machines, because they usually only have 4 memory slots (compared to 8 or 12 that better machines have)).

Here’s the configuration:

DL320 G5 Trays

  • HP DL320 G5 with 2.13 Ghz Xeon DC CPU
  • 2×1 GB Memory
  • 2x160GB 7.2kRPM SATA Disks

Unpacking and opening

This machine ships with the usual features known from HP – iLO 2, but without any licenses for advanced use (you can use it with a serial console that can be accessed with a Java Client). Also the slide-out serial number tag (an awesome idea in my opinion).

DL320G5 Mainboard
The machine also shipped prebuilt (which is nice, as i’m probably the most lazy person on earth) – the hard disk in the machine look like they’re hot -pluggable, and they theoretically are – but the onboard SATA controller does not support hot plugging. If you want that, you’ll need to buy a RAID controller from HP. I like this setup a bit more than IBM’s Simple Swap harddisks, but there’s no real advantage in daily use.

The components where assembled nicely, and the build quality is generally good.

Interiors

The general interior of this machine is very much the same as the x3250 – with a rather interesting difference: the machine has built in USB port, with lot’s of free space around it. I really have no idea what you’d want to do with this (if it was a desktop machine, you could probably use it with Flash for Vista’s ReadyBoost technology).

DL320 G5 Internal USB Port
The fans in the machine are not hot pluggable, but redundant. The cabling is en par with the x3250, but there’s a slight disadvantage in extensibility. While the x3250 has a separate slot for installing specific IBM RAID controllers, there’s no such thing in the HP machine – you’ll have to use one of the PCI-E 8x slots for installing one of the HP RAID controllers. I do not consider this to be a problem in daily use either, because there’s usually not much need for expansion adapters in 1U machines.

Booting the server

The onboard controller is a standard Intel AHCI SATA controller (You will need to enable RAID functionality in the BIOS, and leave the RAID BIOS unconfigured – this will expose both disks to Linux using the AHCI driver). As of Debian GNU/Linux 4.0, this controller is now natively supported in the default configuration. There are many options in the BIOS to save a variety of contact information. Maybe useful in enterprise environments, didn’t play with them that much.

DL320 G5 Field Manual
iLO configuration works fine as usual, but netbooting the machine was awkward – it refused to load our WDS bootloader several times, but succeeded finally (WDS then boots RIS, which then boots PXELinux – here’s how to do this). I have no idea if it is just an old switch acting up, or an actual problem.

Resumee

Is this machine better than the x3250? Make up your own opinion. The only real world advantage i’ve seen is that iLO 2 is included in the machine, and allows you to access a serial console for free. The iLO advanced option which allows KVM access (and a variety of enterprise integration features) is quite expensive at about 450 CHF. The x3250 does not ship with an RSA II, but the RSA II is only 250 CHF, a lot less than the KVM access license.

DL320 G5 Cabling
When you’re using Windows, you can use EMS to use the serial port, on Linux or other Unix based OSes you can usually redirect both the console and the kernel to a serial port (and of course you can redirect the BIOS).

I liked the disks, which seem to handle much more nicely than the Simple Swap SATA disks from IBM.

IBM’s ServeRAID Manager may send spurious messages after an IP change

ServeRAID Manager 8.40
IBM’s ServeRAID Manager in the Version 8.0 does not handle IP changes of the host machine cleanly. In my case, it continued to send information messages to the ServeRAID Port (34571) on the old IP Address. See the screenshot to the right on where to change this.

On this topic, i’ve found a very interesting link, IBM’s ServeRAID Reference, with lot’s of pictures and detailed specifications of each controller.

Layer One sucks – they still have power outages

Layer One sucks. Big time.

They’ve had power outages before, and again. However, it seems that they didn’t change anything. This is the fifth power outage, and we’re there for at most 1.5 years.

Today, there was a smaller power taking down only of the two power lines we had. But it still lasted for several hours, and recovery and information was incompetent and slow. Don’t go to Layer One. Their Power Grid sucks as much as their service and their information policy.