IBM System x3755 Server

Editor's Choice
Price
£11,700

IBM may not have as extensive a range of Opteron servers as Hewlett Packard but it has never lost the faith and was one of the first blue-chips to partner with AMD. Its System x family of rack servers currently offer three Opteron equipped solutions with the mighty x3755 representing the flagship of the range.

No doubt the biggest competition to the x3755 comes from HP's ProLiant DL585 G2 and yet you couldn't find two more differently designed servers. When HP launched its second generation DL585 it introduced a completely new modular design where the four processor sockets and associated memory banks are mounted on a single board that can be removed directly from the front of the server.

IBM has also gone for a modular design although unlike the DL585 G2 the chassis' top panel needs to be removed to access the various components. With this out of the way you'll find each processor is fitted in separate, vertically mounted boards that are released by lifting two clamps and pulling the board upwards. As with the DL585, each processor is accompanied by eight DIMM sockets allowing memory to be expanded to a total of 128GB. However, IBM's Xcelerated Memory Technology (XMT) gives IBM an edge as it allows all eight DIMMs to run at their top speed of 667MHz when fully populated. XMT overcomes the problems caused by extra signal noise when you add more than two DIMMs on each bus as the standard procedure is drop the speed to 533MHz to overcome this. IBM simply added an extra circuit to the bus that counteracts noise thus allowing the top memory speed to remain unaffected. IBM has more aces up its sleeve as its CPU PassThru Card allows the server to be used in one- and three-way configurations without incurring any performance hits. In a three-way configuration the card preserves AMD's ring topology whilst in a one-way configuration it allows all I/O devices to be accessed directly by enabling the second PCI bridge.

The system on review is offering a good deal as IBM supplied it with a quartet of 2.6GHz Opterons and a healthy 8GB of memory spread equally amongst them. IBM doesn't do so well on the storage front as the front panel only has room for four 3.5in. hot-swap SAS/SATA hard disks. Standard RAID features are also unimpressive as the server comes with IBM's ServeRAID-8k controller which is partnered by a measly 32MB of cache memory. You get basic support for stripes and mirrors as standard but you'll need to upgrade to get RAID-5 and -6 plus the battery backup pack. Cooling is handled efficiently with the review system equipped with the full redundant fan pack which provides a total of six hot-swap fans for the processor modules and hard disk bay. You'd expect a server with this much power under the hood to be noisy but you'd be wrong as the x3755 barely whispers making it easily the quietest Opteron MP system we've yet seen in the lab.

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Server installation is a cinch as IBM's bootable ServerGuide CD-ROM helps set up the hard disks, create a system partition, install drivers and load your chosen OS. The bundled Director software suite is IBM's standard management tool for all its servers, blade servers, workstations and laptops and requires an agent loaded locally for the system to be remotely managed. For storing inventory details on the selected management system it can use existing DB2, SQL Server and Oracle databases or will install its own copy of Apache Derby.

The main Console interface is well designed and provides plenty of information about monitored servers and details on critical system components such as processors, memory and cooling fans. On first contact you can use a wizard to build an event action plan where you select from the list of managed servers, choose which ones you want to monitor and decide how to be notified if anything goes awry. Events range from CPU and memory utilisation to available hard disk space and you can apply custom thresholds to each value.

The latest version of Director provides new virtual server management tools and improved inventory capabilities. The main interface can be expanded to include two more windows showing the various groups of managed systems and available tasks. To run tasks you simply drag and drop their icons onto a server which will automatically fire them up. We also liked the fact that we could install the Director agent on non-IBM servers and gather a large amount of inventory and alerting information from them and remotely control power.

Director can also run the optional PowerExecutive component which allows power consumption and thermal loads to be remotely controlled. Power monitoring allows you to keep a close eye of consumption by server and also by domain whilst power capping throttles back processor performance to reduce heat output. There are more remote management possibilities as the price also includes IBM's Remote Supervisor Adapter SlimLine II card which fits into a proprietary slot on the motherboard. This offers remote browser access to the server and provides a similar feature set to HP's embedded iLO2 controller. You have full control over power settings, the server can be remotely controlled and you can keep a close eye on system status and error logs.

The x3755 impresses with its smart modular design, extensive expansion possibilities and remarkably low operational noise levels. Internal storage capacity and the modest base RAID configuration are weaknesses but the superb management facilities more than make up for this and being the Socket F variety this server is ready to receive AMD's quad-core 'Barcelona' Opterons whenever they become available.

Verdict

IBM delivers a well designed Opteron MP server offering unique memory and processor performance enhancements, an impressive expansion potential and a quality range of remote management capabilities that includes some very smart power management tools.

4U rack chassis 4 x 2.6GHz AMD Opteron 8218 8GB of 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM expandable to 128GB IBM ServeRAID 8k-l SAS RAID controller with 32MB cache memory Supports RAID-0, -1, -10, JBODs and hot-swap 3 x 73.4GB IBM SAS hard disks in hot-swap carriers Dual Broadcom Gigabit Ethernet with TOE 1 x PCI-e 16X, 2 x PCI-e 8X, 1 x PCI-e 4X, 133MHz and 100MHz PCI-X 2 x 1500W hot-swap power supplies Embedded IPMI 2.0 BMC IBM RSA II SlimLine remote management card IBM ServerGuide, Director 5.2 and ServeRAID Manager software bundled

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