With the launch of the “Nocona” Xeon DP processors from Intel this week, the major server makers are trying to make the best of an increasingly difficult job of differentiating the products that are based on x86 processors from each other and from their own Unix or proprietary lines. Hewlett-Packard, the volume leader in the Intel space, and IBM, which is moving aggressively in blades and high-end machines, both refreshed their server lines this week.
HP is shipping the Nocona chips in two rack, two tower, and one blade model, according to James Mouton, vice president of platforms at HP’s Industry Standard Server unit. He says that about 80% of HP’s server shipments are for two-way capable servers that the Nocona’s go into, and he says further that this percentage is roughly equivalent to the share that two-way x86 machines hold in the server market at large. Shipments of x86 servers dominate the worldwide market, so this stands to reason; Unix and proprietary machines may bring in billions of dollars, but their shipment numbers are relatively small. The technological improvements that Intel is delivering with the Nocona chips, their related Lindenhurst chipsets (the E7520 and E7320), faster DDR2 main memory, 800MHz frontside bus, and PCI-Express peripherals is going to affect a very large number of customers.
Like many IT executives in his position, Mouton believes that the delays in delivering the 64-bit version of Windows Server 2003, which can take advantage of the Extended Memory 64-Bit Technology instructions that have been added to the Pentium 4 core, is not going to have a dramatic effect on Nocona server shipments. There no doubt in my mind that these products are going to move, says Mouton. The beauty of the situation is that customers don’t need a 64-bit operating system to make use of the new hardware technologies today. Linux can run in either 32-bit or 64-bit mode on the Nocona servers.
Mouton also concedes that the Nocona servers close the gap between prior generations of ProLiant machines using 32-bit Xeon processors and older memory and I/O technologies and the Opteron-based ProLiant machines that HP announced this spring. But, Opterons will still have their share of the business. While this closes the gap, the choice of Xeon over Opteron really depends on how applications make use of the underlying technologies.
In terms of rack machines, HP has rolled out the ProLiant DL360 G4, its fourth generation of 1U rack-mounted servers. The DL360 G4 is a two-way server that supports the Nocona chips running at 3GHz or 3.4GHz, and supports up to 8GB of DDR 333MHz main memory (1GB is the base amount in the machine). The main memory can be interleaved to boost performance, or carved up for hot sparing. This machine comes with one Ultra320SCSI or SATA drive and room to add another drive; a RAID 1 disk controller is embedded on the motherboard. Like the DL360 G3, it has two Gigabit Ethernet ports and an embedded Integrated Lights Out management co-processor. In the G3 machines, adding a redundant power supply killed off one of the two PCI-X slots in the box, but the G4 design allows redundant power without sacrificing the slot. A bare bones machine with one 3GHz Nocona processor, 1GB of memory, and no disk costs $2,349. With two 250GB SATA drives, it costs $4,737.
The DL380 G4 is the workhorse of the ProLiant line, and the main machine that a lot of midrange shops use for data processing. HP is putting up to two of the 3.4GHz or 3.6GHz Nocona chips into this 2U chassis. The DL380 G4 also gets the faster 400MHz DDR2 main memory, with support for up to 12GB when 2GB DIMMs start shipping in the fourth quarter. This machine has three PCI-X slots, with an optional PCI-Express slot. It has room for six Ultra320 SCSI disks. (SATA drives are not supported.) A base DL380 G4 with one 3.4GHz Nocona, 1GB of main memory, an integrated RAID 5 disk controller, and no disks sells for $3,798. With 2GB of memory, two Nocona chips running at 3.6GHz, and no disk drives, the DL380 G4 costs $6,899.
In its tower machines, HP’s ProLiant ML350 uses the 3GHz and 3.2GHz Nocona and supports up to 8GB of main memory in a 5U tower chassis; it has two PCI-Express slots and four PCI-X slots. With 512MB of base main memory (333MHz DDR2), the ML350 costs $1,599 with the 3GHz Nocona chip. The ML370 uses the 3.4GHz Nocona chip (but not yet the 3.6GHz chip) and supports up to 16GB of 400MHz DDR2 memory. A base machine with 1GB of memory and one processor costs $2,899, but this machine has limited configurations available. More malleable DL370s cost a little more.
Finally, HP has also put the Nocona chip in its ProLiant BL20p two-way blade server. HP is putting the 3.2GHz Noconas on the blade, and pricing is not available as yet. First shipments of Nocona on this blade server is expected on September 1.
In addition to making these ProLiant announcements, HP also rolled out a new storage array that can house either Serial ATA or SCSI drives. The MSA1500, as this device is called, is HP’s first step into delivering a lower-cost product based on SATA drives; right now customers have to pick either SATA or SCSI drives in the MSA1500, but soon, HP will allow SATA and SCSI drives to be mixed on the same controller. SATA drives are a variant of IDE desktop drives that are less reliable but a lot less expensive than SCSI disks. HP also announced an SATA enclosure called the MSA20, which houses SATA disks and can connect to an Ultra320 SCSI controller.
Over at Big Blue, Stuart MacRae, manager of IBM xSeries products, says that the 64-bit extensions in the current Prescott P4s and Nocona Xeon DPs (as well as the future Cranford and Potomac Xeon MPs) are a turning point in the server industry. The delivery of these extensions in the x86 space is a really big deal, he says. It may not impact the industry this year, but it will over the next 12 to 18 months, and IBM thinks it will be one of the big winners.
That’s why IBM is rolling out the Prescott chips in the uniprocessor xSeries 306 rack-server and the xSeries 206 tower server as well as putting Nocona chips in its two-way designs, including rack, tower, and blade configurations. EM64T is not just about Nocona.
Like HP, IBM is beginning to roll out SATA drives into its server line. According to MacRae, the xSeries 306, which is a 1U rack-mounted machine, can support either simple swap SATA or hot swap SCSI disk drives. (SATA does not support hot swap yet, but IBM has created a simple swap that allows an SATA drive to be plugged in or unplugged after the machine is powered down.) The xSeries 306 has a single Prescott chip running at 3.2GHz, also with an 800MHz frontside bus. The xSeries 306 comes with 512MB of main memory (expandable to 4GB) and has an integrated RAID 1 controller, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, and two PCI-X slots; it costs $1,409 in a base configuration. The tower variant of this machine, the xSeries 206, can have four SATA drives or three SCSI drives and it sells for $909 with 256MB of main memory.
The xSeries 336 us a two-way, 1U Nocona server that can house four 2.5-inch SCSI disks or two 3.5-inch SATA drives. (IBM is the first of the major server makers to deploy 2.5-inch disks in production.) The xSeries 336 will be able to support 16GB of main memory when 2GB DIMMs start shipping later this year. This machine has dual Gigabit NICs and an integrated RAID 5 controller, plus two PCI-X slots. A base machine using the 2.8GHz Nocona with 512MB of memory costs $2,209.
A similar tower machine, the xSeries 226, has room for six of the 2.5-inch SCSI drives or four SATA drives. It costs $1,255 with a single 2.8GHz Nocona and 512MB of main memory.
The big dog in the xSeries Nocona line is the xSeries 346, which is a 2U server that competes head-to-head with HP’s DL380 G4. This machine will support up to 16GB of main memory, and has an integrated RAID 1 and RAID 10 controller that can support RAID 5 with the addition of a daughter card. It uses regular 3.5-inch Ultra320 SCSI disks, and up to six of them can be housed in the chassis. This box has four PCI-X slots and dual Gigabit NICS. A base machine with a 2.8GHz Nocona chip and 512MB of memory costs $2,339.
The high-end tower Nocona machine from IBM is the xSeries 236, which has the same basic guts as the xSeries 346 but has space for nine drives and six PCI-X or PCI-Express slots. The base xSeries 236 cists $2,139 with a single 2.8GHz Nocona and 512MB of main memory.
Finally, IBM is also going to put the Nocona chip inside its BladeCenter HS20 blade server. A two-processor blade with 2GB of main memory will cost $3,559.
IBM will begin shipping the Prescott and blade servers this week, and will be shipping the two-way machines in volume by the end of August.