IBM System x3650 M5 review

IBM exits the x86 server market with its best 2U rack system to-date

IT Pro Recommended
Price
£1,452
  • Good value; Super build quality; Extensive storage options; IBM’s TPA security; Power efficient
  • IMM2 is basic; ServerGuide still not retired

IBM may have sold its commodity server business to Lenovo but that hasn't stopped it launching a fifth generation of System x servers. Once the sale goes through the only physical change will be on the front nameplate and in this exclusive review, we take a closer look at the new x3650 M5 2U system.

The M5 continues IBM's pay-as-you-grow mantra so users can start small and upgrade on demand. Along with support for Intel's E5-2600 v3 Xeons, the M5 has massively improved internal storage while IBM's Trusted Platform Assurance provides much tighter security.

The server will support up to 1.5TB of TruDDR4 memory when 64GB LR-DIMMs become available later this year. Data centres will like the improved energy efficiency as it allows the server to keep a cool head at 40C.

The new internal design increases expansion potential massively with support for nine PCI-Express cards

Store more than before

IBM offers an insane amount of storage options so it'll pay to do some research first. The server supports up to 26 SFF drives but its myriad RAID options are confusing.

Systems start with an embedded non-RAID 6Gbps SATA controller supporting eight drives but you can fit three more drive cages and depending on the model, add up to four ServeRAID 12Gbps SAS RAID cards. The front panel has the same 8+8+8 drive bay design as HP's DL380 Gen9 with the two extra SFF drives installed at the rear. 

For LFF drives, you can have twelve at the front and two more at the back. IBM's SAS expander kit will be required for storage dense configurations and the ServeRAID cards will also need FoD (feature on demand) upgrades to activate RAID5 and 6 support. 

The IMM2 is more basic than Dell and HP but IBM's Advanced upgrade enables remote control

Internal overhaul

IBM's internal design offers a remarkable expansion potential as there's room for nine PCI-Express slots three more than the DL380 Gen9. Two vertical PCI-e slots are squeezed in between the pair of 3-slot risers while the ninth is dedicated to a horizontally mounted ServeRAID card. 

The four large fans in the x3650 M4 have been replaced with six hot-swap dual-rotor modules. IBM's calibrated vectored cooling splits them into two zones and combining this with 750W Titanium PSUs allows the server to operate in higher ambient temperatures.

IBM's TruDDR4 memory offers some interesting advantages. Using their built in signature, the server will authenticate them and IBM claims that in two RDIMM per channel configurations, they'll run up to 12 per cent faster than Intel's specification.

IBM's Systems Director is easy to deploy and capable of managing all your network systems

Step away from the server

A big concern with the impending sale has been manufacturing and supply chain security. IBM tackles these issues with its Trusted Platform Assurance (TPA) initiative which uniquely uses two TPMs (trusted platform modules) one on the server and another in the embedded IMM controller.

TPA adds extra security layers on top of Intel's TPM. This allows firmware code to be locked between the system and the IMM.

Other security measures designed to stop pre-production tampering are firmware signing, measured boot, verified boot and firmware supply chain attack detection. Secure firmware rollback is also designed to stop illicit updates of previous firmware versions.

The Systems Director Active Energy Manager plug-in keeps track of power consumption and temperatures

Power and management

The review system came with two 900W Platinum PSUs and along with 128GB of TruDDR4 memory, we specified dual 2.6GHz E5-2690 v3 Xeons. Members of Intel's Advanced Haswell-EP group, these 12-core models are faster than the 2.3GHz 14-core E5-2695 v3 Xeons we specified in our DL380 Gen9 but have a higher 135W TDP.

Even so, the server fared very well in our power tests with it drawing 118W in idle and 367W under maximum load. The DL380 Gen9 we reviewed had half the memory and pulled 90W in idle and peaked at 352W.

To install Windows Server 2012 R2 we still had to boot the server using IBM's ServerGuide DVD. Dell streamlined this with its Unified Server Configurator four years ago while HP introduced the Intelligent Provisioning feature in its Gen8 servers in 2012.

The embedded IMM2 controller isn't as feature rich as Dell's iDRAC8 and HP's iLO4 but IBM's System Director matches Dell's OpenManage Essentials and HP's Systems Insight Manager for features and is easier to deploy. From its tidy console we could run network discoveries, deploy software, view inventories and use the Active Energy Manager plug-in to monitor server power consumption and temperatures.

Overall

The x3650 M5 looks good value with IBM's Express models starting at only 1,432. The system we reviewed has an RRP of 10,442 but this does include a whopping 128GB of TruDDR4, a pair of 12-core Xeons plus dual M5210 RAID cards and reseller prices will most certainly be lower.

This will be the last System x series from IBM and it goes out with a bang as the x3650 M5 offers the most comprehensive range of features we've yet seen in its rack servers. Remote management and OS deployment tools need to be brought in line with Dell and HP but its storage options, TPA platform security and excellent build make for a very capable rack server.

Verdict

The x3650 M5 packs plenty into its 2U shell and is capable of handling a wide variety of tasks. Remote management and OS deployment need improving but Lenovo will be getting its hands on a very versatile rack server.

Chassis: 2U rack

CPU: 2 x 2.6GHz Xeon E5-2690 v3 

Memory: 128GB 2133MHz 1.2V TruDDR4 (max 1.5TB with 64GB LRDIMMs)

Storage: 300GB IBM 10K SAS 2 hot-swap hard disk (max 26)

RAID: 2 x IBM ServeRAID-M5210 12Gbps SAS/1GB cache/BBU

Array support: RAID0, 1, 10 (5, 6 optional)

Expansion: 9 x PCI-e Gen3 (with two risers)

Network: 4 x embedded Gigabit

Power: 2 x 900W Platinum hot-plug PSUs 

Management: IMM2 Advanced

Other: Enterprise rail kit and cable management arm

Software: IBM ServerGuide and Systems Director

Warranty: 3yrs on-site NBD

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