Lenovo ThinkServer RD550 review - Bringing the fight to Dell & HP

Lenovo’s latest Gen5 ThinkServers change the game

IT Pro Recommended
Price
£8,930
  • Excellent design, highly expandable, good value, Lenovo’s TSM and TDM
  • DisplayPort makes the TSM Premium upgrade a must-have

For many years, Lenovo's ThinkServers have offered solid but uninspiring alternatives to Dell's and HP's servers but that's all about to change.

Closing the deal on IBM's System x portfolio moves Lenovo to centre stage in the global server market and if that wasn't enough, it's also launched a Gen5 ThinkServer family.

On review is the ThinkServer RD550 1U rack server which shows off a complete hardware refresh. Lenovo has also redesigned its systems management subsystem while its embedded OS deployment tools put it on a par with Dell and HP.

The RD550 supports Intel's E5-2600 v3 Xeons plus 768GB of DDR4 memory and expansion options have been enhanced. And then there's the new AnyFabric mezzanine cards and unique AnyRAID adapters which add even more versatility.

Internal design is excellent with the AnyRAID PCI-e mid-plane card located behind the drive bays

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Derailed deployment

Our first job was to install an OS and we immediately hit the buffers as Lenovo has replaced the standard VGA port with a DisplayPort interface. We purchased the recommended DisplayPort-to-VGA converter but this failed to work on a wide range of monitors.

No problem, we thought, as we could use the new ThinkServer System Manager (TSM) web console. However, on loading it we found the TSM Premium upgrade and virtual console weren't present.

Lenovo quickly shipped the 38 Premium upgrade module to us and with this plugged into the motherboard, OS deployment continued smoothly. The embedded ThinkServer Deployment Manager (TDM) made our life a lot easier as we no longer needed to boot the server with the EasyStartup disk.

TDM provides tools for platform updates, BIOS setup, hardware configuration and OS deployment. Direct access to the server's AnyRAID adapter allowed us to configure storage and we had Windows Server 2012 R2 loaded in under 30 minutes.

The new TSM web console is slicker and more informative than the old TMM

The TSM web console

The TSM makes up for the deficiencies of the older ThinkServer Management Module (TMM) as it provides more useful information about server operations. Its home page opens with a firmware and event log summary, temperature and power consumption speedo dials and that all-important virtual console link.

Flicking over to the second page allowed us to view the FRU inventory, secure TSM access, browse audit logs and activate TSM firewall rules. We could monitor sensor data for temperatures, voltages and fans and link platform event filters with alert policies.

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The remote firmware upgrade feature came in handy as on first power up, the 8 hot-swap system fans were screaming permanently at full throttle.  It turned out the TSM couldn't read the temperatures for the Seagate drives in the review system but after applying a firmware fix, the server became as quiet as a mouse.

The embedded TDM makes light work of OS deployment

AnyRAID for all

Lenovo's AnyRAID feature is quite unique as it extends the RD550's PCI-Express bus to a mid-plane located behind the drive bays. The AnyRAID adapters snap in to the mid-plane card and Lenovo offers three options.

Our RAID 720ix adapter supports up to 26 12Gbps SAS drives, RAID6 and 60 arrays, 1GB read-only cache or up to 4GB flash cache. The latter also enables LSI's CacheVault, CacheCade and FastPath features for improved performance.

The RAID 720i adapter supports flash cache and 8 12Gbps SAS/SATA drives while the RAID 510i drops to 6Gbps SAS/SATA and loses RAID6 support. You can start with the embedded RAID 110i controller which supports 6Gbps SATA drives and a RAID5 upgrade.

We used the TSM firmware upgrade tool to resolve the shrieking fan problem

Storage and expansion

The chassis is available with either 4 LFF bays or 12 SFF bays and drive choices extend to SAS, SATA, standard SSD and PCI-e SSD. Lose two of the three PCI-e expansion slots and there's room at the back for two more SATA SFF drives.

Lenovo's AnyFabric mezzanine cards will make up for this loss. The RD550 accepts two AnyFabric cards which snap in to proprietary slots on the motherboard and present their ports at the rear. We've included the cost of a quad Gigabit model but other options range from 10GBase-T, SFP+ or CNA to 8Gbps and 16Gbps Fibre Channel.

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Power and conclusion

Lenovo has also improved power choices as along with the dual 750W 80+ Platinum PSUs in the review system, it offers 550W and 1100W versions plus a 750W Titanium model and all share a common form factor. We found power consumption a tad high on our system but this was purely down to the dual 2.6GHz E5-2690 v3 Xeons and their hefty 135W TDPs.

In idle we measured a draw of 176W which peaked at 457W under heavy load from SiSoft Sandra. The HP ProLiant DL380 Gen9 we reviewed h did only have 64GB of DDR4 but its pair of 120W TDP 2.3GHz E5-2695 v3 Xeons teamed up for noticeably lower idle and peak readings of 90W and 352W.

Having reviewed Lenovo's ThinkServers from the day they were launched, we were surprised and pleased with the RD550 as it is vastly superior to its predecessors. The AnyRAID and AnyFabric features make it highly versatile, system management gets a much needed boost and it compares exceedingly well with Dell's PowerEdge R630 for value.

Verdict

The new Gen5 Thinkservers offer a superior design, greater expansion potential and smarter management tools. The AnyFabric and AnyRAID options make the RD550 versatile and it won’t be beaten for value either

Chassis: 1U rack

CPU: 2 x 2.6GHz E5-2690 v3 Xeon (12-core)

Memory: 256GB 2,133MHz DDR4 (max 768GB)

Storage: 2 x 240GB Intel S3500 SSD, 5 x 300GB Toshiba SAS 15K SFF (max 14)

RAID: Lenovo AnyRAID 720ix 12Gbps SAS/1GB read cache

Array support: RAID0, 1, 10, 5, 6, 50, 60

Expansion: 3 x PCI-e

Network: 4 x Gigabit AnyFabric (max 2)

Power: 2 x 750W hot-plug PSUs

Management: Lenovo TSM with Gigabit port

Warranty: 3yrs on site NBD

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