High-End Wintel-based Rack Servers - Working Hard to Stay #1
R.A. Krause - August, 1999
high-end Intel (four CPU) rackmount servers, the ProLiant 5500R , 6400R, and
6500R, are generally used for larger installations, such as data centers/warehouses,
and by large companies wanting to minimize the floor space their computers use.
Rackmount servers provide the ability to put a large number of CPUs in a small
footprint, or to combine CPUs with a large number of peripherals (usually disk
drive subsystems). These compete primarily in the enterprise computing market
space. Compaq's (~30% market share) largest competitors are Dell, HP, and IBM
(10-15% each). The rackmount market is growing, partly due to server market
growth in general, and partly due to a shift from pedestal/floor-standing/"tower"
servers. It is believed that rackmount servers will be about 60% of the general
server market within 1-2 years (vs. 30-40% 2-3 years ago), and greater than
80% of the high-end Intel server market within the same time period.
Price/Performance: Recent TPC results show a ProLiant 5500R configured
system costing 10% less while sacrificing only 5% performance, relative
to a Dell 6300/6350. ($14.62/tpmC at ~22K tpmC vs. $16.30/tpmC at ~23K tpmC
Storage: The 5500R holds up to ten 1.0" drives, giving it the most
disk storage capability in its class.
Flexibility: The 5500R can be converted to a freestanding unit
Functionality: The ProLiant 6400R houses up to four Xeon CPUs in
a 4U "footprint", with only one other vendor (Dell) currently providing
a similarly dense offering. The 6400R has more hot-swappable hard disk drives
[CPQ: 4x1.0", Dell:3x1.0"], providing greater flexibility for in-box RAID
configurations. The 6400R features HotPlug PCI for systems running Windows
NT 4.0. This is significant, since most vendors will not implement HotPlug
on Windows until Windows NT 5.0/2000.
Serviceability: The 6400R is easily serviceable, with tool-free access
and service. In addition, the ability to swap out power supplies from the
front allows the user to do that without pulling the system out of the rack
- Dell's are top-access, meaning the system must be pulled out of the rack.
Functionality: As with the 6400R, the 6500R features HotPlug PCI
for systems running Windows NT 4.0.
Reliability/Availability: Compaq's redundant fans, internal power
modules, and power supplies lead to greater reliability/uptime. In addition,
hot-pluggability of fans, power supplies, and PCI allows service/replacement
without having to shut down the system.
General: The Integrated Management Display (which
provides useful server status information without needing a console/monitor)
adds value to the user. In addition, the Rack 9000 system allows customers
to utilize 42U, and still get it through a standard door without having
to tip over the rack. Rack offerings from Dell, HP, and IBM require either
a non-standard door, or stop at 41U. (The "extra" U allows a customer to
install six 7U-high servers in a rack vs. five in a 41U). This potentially
allows the customer to roll a fully-configured rack into the computer room,
saving the aggravation of on-site builds.
5500R: The 5500R has features similar to its main
competitors, the Dell 6300 and the HP LXr8000. The LXr8000 provides more
I/O slots (10 vs. 7), more RAM capacity (8 vs 4 GB), and slightly better
environmentals (5 C vs. 10 C min. op. temp). However, the LXr8000 only allows
two hot swap HDDs - it is up to the customer to decide if PCI slots and
RAM are more important than disk storage. The 5500R comes pre-configured
with two of its PCI slots filled - a NIC and a SCSI controller - so the
true number of I/O slots available is five.
6400R: It does not appear to have any significant
product weaknesses. However, we have a concern regarding airflow, and the
potential of preheated air being used to cool the two "downstream" CPUs.
6500R: Although the 6500R has a good feature set,
Dell's 6300 surpasses it in I/O slots and disk storage. This may be an issue
for customers needing more PCI slots.
General: In general, Compaq's biggest product problem
is that it has too many four-CPU products - this can confuse the customer.
Although each product has its own special feature set, Compaq should consider
reducing the number of offerings by adding functionality to either the 5500R
or 6500R. Compaq's other problem is corporate, not product-related: its
product quoting/ordering can be cumbersome, relative to Dell. (However,
HP and IBM, on the surface, appear to be no better than Compaq.)
5500R: The 5500R should consider making another
I/O slot available, whether through adding functionality to the main logic
board, or not making the SCSI controller standard. In addition, although
a 24.5"deep system is a nice feature, the design engineers should consider
allowing the chassis to grow larger in future implementations - it is not
clear whether the chassis being 3+ inches shallower than its competitors
is a significant advantage.
6400R: This is a well-featured, densely packed server.
The ability to put four CPUs in a 4U box (and thus 40 CPUs in a 42U rack)
is a very strong selling point. In addition, the system is well packaged,
and has numerous other competitive features. However, there can be some
Try to get at least one more PCI slot. This would keep
it on a par with Dell's offering, but would require some redesign.
Consider increasing the power supply output. Dell has
more capacity in that regard. Given Intel's and disk drives' tradition
of power increases, this may be needed in the near future.
- As with the 6400R, this is well featured, but Compaq should try to match
Dell's greater I/O and storage capacity.
Play up the PCI HotPlug on Windows NT capability, Dell
doesn't match it - yet
From a marketing perspective, the 6400R should be marketed
as a high-CPU-density system, with all the benefits that accrue to that
type of product, including clustering, disk farms, etc. The 5500R and
6500R should be positioned as cost-effective, general purpose systems
with different advantages over Dell and HP. Compaq appears to be positioning
these products correctly, and both products appear to be viable for
the immediate future.
Compaq should make a concerted effort to have a "plug
and play" 42U rack: it arrives on the shipping dock, is unpacked and
rolled to the computer room, gets plugged in, and starts cranking. Combining
the added "U" with a pre-built configuration could be a big selling
point for Compaq, and Compaq should get as much mileage as it can from
Customers who need/want a low-profile cluster solution,
or who want lots of CPU power in a small box, will find the 6400R a good
choice. The 5500R is better suited to high-performance and general-purpose
computing, and for customers who want excellent price/performance.
Because the 5500R has only five I/O slots available, the
customer should consider using this point as a bargaining tool when considering
HP as the alternate vendor. If the user absolutely needs more than five
I/O slots, the 5500R becomes much less desirable - and a point customers
should consider using in negotiations.
Xeon: Intel Corporation CPU
U: Rack unit = 1.75" high
HDD: Hard disk drive
tpmC : Performance unit, transaction-based (for further info: www.tpc.org
- Transaction Processing Performance Council)
NIC: Network Interface Card
PCI: Peripheral Component Interconnect (an internal I/O bus)