HP’s NetServers: Intel-Based Boxes That Pack a Punch

Intel-based servers have penetrated small business, the workgroup, the department, the enterprise and they're widely used by service providers. HP's Intel-based servers - its NetServers - get high marks, partly because HP was a pioneer in the Intel-based server space and partly because of the high-availability and management features HP has integrated into the midrange, as well as the high end of the product line.

Intel-based servers have penetrated small business, the workgroup, the department, the enterprise, and they’re widely used by service providers. Sales of these systems have surged, as improvements in hardware have allowed Intel-based servers to rival the performance of entry-level UNIX-based machines, and as users have grown comfortable enough with Windows NT to trust it with their mission-critical applications.The introduction of Windows 2000 has further spurred demand. Now, even high-end users are migrating down to Intel chips because of Win 2000’s promised scalability.

HP’s Intel-based servers – its NetServers – get high marks, partly because HP was a pioneer in the Intel-based server space and partly because of the high availability and management features HP has integrated into the midrange, as well as the high end of the product line.

"It’s fair to say we were out in front in the NT server space," says Chris Bennett, Product Marketing Manager at HP’s Network Server Division. "We’ve also brought high availability and high-end features very aggressively into the midrange of the portfolio. Take, for example, our LH 3000. We included features like a dual-channel integrated RAID controller, a hot-swap fan and N+1 power supplies."

HP took on a pioneer role again this March, when it introduced the LH 6000 and LT 6000r servers, 4-way machines that can scale up to six processors. The LT 6000r, a rack-optimized machine with a small form factor, has become so popular it’s now considered the flagship of the entire NetServer line. That line reaches down to the entry level and up to what HP calls its "superserver."

The E 60 and LPr

At the low end of the NetServer line are the E 60 and the LPr, a rack-optimized server. The E 60 is the newest in the original E series, pioneer NT boxes for small business. The E 60 is designed to provide a small business with everything it needs. Sold to floral shops, dentists and businesses with sole proprietors, the E 60 meets general needs for file serving and Web access.

The E 60 is a 2-way server and supports Pentium III 500-MHz, 550-MHz and 600-MHz chips. It offers up to 1 GB of memory and comes with HP TopTools, the Web-based tool for managing Windows boxes and devices on a network. The E 60 also features an integrated backup solution.

Priced at the cost of a relatively inexpensive desktop, the E 60 can be purchased for less than $1,500.

The LPr, an innovative product when it was introduced 18 months ago, is a 2-way in a rack-optimized 2u form factor. "The growth rate for that format is tremendous," Bennett says. Demand is being fueled by ISPs, ASPs and other kinds of service providers, who often install 15 or 20 LPrs in a rack. But sales are not limited to service providers. Corporate users who want to deploy a proxy server, cache device or reverse proxy adopt the LPr to obtain significant functionality without sacrificing much space.

The LPr packs a lot of punch in a small space and boasts a relatively low price tag, selling for about $3,500 to $4,000.

The demand for the LPr reveals a broad new trend in the industry – toward rack-optimized boxes. Three or four years ago, such machines didn’t even exist. Now, Bennett says, even users purchasing multipurpose machines, like the LC 2000 and 3000, frequently choose rack over pedestal models. Rack-optimized models are essential for service providers, of course, who must conserve space, but Bennett thinks there’s another reason for their popularity – external storage arrays. With external storage arrays, users can obtain what they want from a box – essentially a boot drive and a mirror boot drive – and then might purchase a machine like HP’s XP256 disk array, which offers terabytes of storage, or HP’s FC60, which stores up to 60 drives, and more than a terabyte of storage.

The LC 2000

At the low end of HP’s multipurpose NetServers is the 2-way LC 2000, introduced in November 1999. It is available in a pedestal and a 5u rack-optimized version (the LC 2000r). The rack-optimized version is embraced by remote sites that are implementing an entire infrastructure and want to put a hub, switches, UPS, and so on, into a small rack to save space.

Because it is a remote office server, the LC 2000 features easy manageability, from the standpoint of both physical and networking management. Color-coding of components and descriptive labels help non-IT personnel service the boxes. Remote management is built-in so that personnel in a corporation’s central office can connect over a phone line and control the server as completely as though they were sitting next to it.

"Actually," Bennett says, "a lot of corporate customers buy them and use them as auxiliary devices in data centers, even though they’re considered departmental servers."

The LC 2000 supports up to two 800-MHz processors and up to 4 GB of memory. It offers a full suite of high availability features – redundant, hot-swappable components, including power supplies and fans. The LC 2000 sells for about $2,300 or $2,400.

The LC 3000

Introduced at the same time as the LC 2000 late last year, the LC 3000 proves there’s a substantial market for a 2-way application/file server. Targeted at departments where there are hundreds of LANs, the LC 3000 can run an entire application out of the box. In fact, the HP Network Server Division, a group with 900 employees, runs its Microsoft Exchange server off an LH 3000. That, says Bennett, is "a classic application for this box."

With the LC 3000, departments "can use up to 12 hot-swap drives, put a big tape drive inside the system, and upgrade all the way up to the 6000 series machines," Bennett explains. "The LC 3000 also features a full suite of high availability features, including kind of exotic things like hot-plug PCI." It also features an integrated dual-channel HP NetRAID Controller that outperforms HP’s standalone PCI RAID controller. "We sell the PCI RAID controller for about $2,200," Bennett says. "The high-performance RAID controller soldered into the LC 3000 comes at no additional charge."

The LC 3000 supports up to 800-MHz Pentium IIIs, up to 4 GB of memory and comes with hot-plug drive bays and redundant power supplies. It comes in a rack-optimized version, the LC 3000r, with an 8u form factor. Pricing starts at about $3,500.

The LH 4 and LH 6000

In the high-performance midrange area, the NetServers shine, which is good news for HP, because 4-way boxes account for the bulk of IT spending on NT/Win 2000 servers and are the biggest revenue and margin generators for PC server vendors. The 4-way market is expected to double in 2001 and grow 50 percent a year for the next couple of years, according to IDC.

HP’s LH 4 is the best-selling 4-way in the industry, but it has been replaced in functionality and price/performance by the company’s newest NetServers, the LH 6000 and LT 6000r. Although HP will enable people using the LH 4 to continue to buy it, the company expects new customers or those deploying new applications to choose the 6000 over the 4000.

The LH 6000 and LT 6000r are 4-way/6-way servers, capable of scaling up to six Pentium III Xeon processors. This means HP "offers customers up to 90 percent of the performance of an 8-way system at a 4-way price," Mari Young, Product Marketing Manager in HP’s Network Server Division, said when introducing the new boxes. Young backed up her claim that HP’s newest NetServers "offer an awesome value proposition" by pointing out that the traditional 8-way NT server carries a price tag of $30,000. "That means customers pay about $5,000 more for a 6-way than for the typical 4-way and receive 32 percent higher performance – not a bad price point," Young said.

Of course, prices for the 6000s start much lower than this – $7,299 for the LH 6000 and $8,199 for the LT 6000r.

In introducing the 6000, HP publicized a number of independent benchmarks that show the 6000s outperforming the Compaq ProLiant 6400 and the Sun Enterprise 450. According to these benchmarks, the 6000 equals or betters the performance of the ProLiant 64000 in a 4-way configuration and outperforms it by 20 to 50 percent in a 6-way configuration. HP’s comparison with the Enterprise 450 are startling. Benchmarks show the 6000 performing the Sun machine from 30 to 80 percent in a 4-way configuration and from 60 percent to more than 200 percent in a 6-way configuration.

In addition to touting the price/performance of the 6000, HP boasts that the machine is easy to upgrade and service. Current users of HP’s NetServer LH 3000 systems will have little problem upgrading to the NetServer LH 6000. Since the 3000 and 6000 share the same chassis and the same memory, drive and disk array controllers, LH 3000 customers can upgrade simply by installing a new motherboard and paying the price delta between the old and new systems. The motherboard slides right out of the 6000 to offer a toolless upgrade and facilitate servicing of the system.

In the LT 6000r, a rack-optimized model, the server snaps onto a slide that operates like a drawer, allowing customers to slide the server in and out of the system. The elimination of screws and other hardware often found in rack-mounted servers allows for easy and fast servicing.

The 6000 is expandable to 8 GB of memory and offers up to 8 free PCI slots, up to 4 hot-pluggable redundant powers supplies, and up to 216 GB of internal storage. It also features an integrated dual-channel HP NetRAID Controller at no extra cost.

The rack-optimized LT 6000r is packaged in a 4u form factor, allowing users to squeeze 60 Xeon processors into a 2-meter rack. The LT 6000r has received a lot of attention in the marketplace, winning Best of Show at NetWorld+Interop 2000.

The LXr 8500

What HP calls its "superserver," the LXr 8500, supports up to eight 800-MHz Pentium III Xeon processors and up to 16 GB of memory, and boasts all of the high availability features of the midrange boxes. Pricing starts at about $19,000 or $20,000.

HP is seeing "a lot more interest in the 8-way machine in the last four to five months," according to Bennett, who credits Windows 2000 for the growing attention. "My guess is that the scalability of Win 2000 has added credibility to the 8-way space," he says.

What’s in Store for the NetServer Line?

Asked about HP’s plans for the future, Bennett mentions one "big development" – Itanium-based machines at the high end of the NetServer line. "When Intel releases the Itanium in the second half of this year, HP will be right there," he says. While Bennett refuses to be specific about dates and machines, he does reveal that HP will release Itanium-based NetServers in the second half of this year.

Then there are Intel’s new 700-MHz chips with integrated cache on die. HP has already introduced 6000s and 8500s with these new chips and in August will roll out a 4000 featuring them. Users can expect a big performance boost because of architectural changes in these processors – the placement of cache on the chip. Bennett cites performance improvements of up to 45 percent. One caution, though, availability of the chips is very tight.

Bennett also says to look for HP to unveil more rack-optimized products at the low end. The products will cover a wide range of price points, capability and form factors, he says. This doesn’t mean that HP expects to introduce brand-new servers. It plans simply to refine different models in its product line and give users the opportunity to migrate to next-generation processor technology.

– Jean Nattkemper is the Editor at Large for HP Professional. She can be reached at jnattkemper@hppro.com.

The Competition

 

While HP’s NetServers are chalking up sales in the Intel-based server space, HP’s competitors, like IBM, Compaq and Dell, aren’t standing still. All have introduced, or plan to introduce, servers featuring the new Intel 700-MHz Xeons with integrated cache on die. IBM has introduced a high-end server powered by the new 700-MHz Xeons. And Big Blue claims its new server shatters the data warehousing performance of HP UNIX-based V-Class servers and is priced at half the cost. In any case, HP’s competitors continue to roll out new products.

 

IBM

IBM’s new 64-processor NUMA-Q E410 may be, as the company claims, "the largest, highest performance Intel server available," but IBM’s main challenge to HP in the Intel-based server market is the Netfinity line of boxes. At the same time it introduced the new high-end server, IBM also launched a new entry-level server in the Netfinity line, the Netfinity 3500 M20. Targeted at small and medium-sized businesses, the 3500 features the new 800-MHz Pentium processors, high-speed I/O, and 64-bit PCI, all elements designed to improve the performance of applications for Web serving, databases, e-mail and messaging. The 3500 M20 boasts an appealing price tag. Pricing starts at $1,830.

 

Responding to the demand for rack-optimized boxes, IBM announced two rack-optimized models in the Netfinity line – the 4500R and 6000R. The 4500R has a 3u form factor and supports up to two 866-MHz Pentium III processors, up to 4 GB of memory, and 218 GB of storage. Pricing starts at $3,700.

 

The 6000r, a 4u box, supports up to four 700-MHz Pentium III Xeon processors, offers 2 MB cache, and features 16 GB of memory. The server has up to three front-accessible power supplies along with a feature that prompts administrators to add a third power supply when needed. Pricing starts at $6,999. Whereas IBM’s older Netfinity 5500 M20 competed head-on with HP’s NetServer LH4, the new Netfinity 6000r will compete directly with HP’s 4-way/6-way LT 6000r.

 

Compaq

Earlier this year, Compaq rebranded its ProLiant line of Intel-based servers, mainly to attract service providers. In the rebranding, Compaq simplified the ProLiant line by renaming packaged clustering solutions with the tag CL, servers with maximum internal system expansion capability with the tag ML, and density-optimized systems with DL. The company also changed the numbers assigned to specific servers.

 

Following up on the rebranding, Compaq unveiled a retooled ProLiant ML530 to replace the ProLiant 3000 family of servers. The enterprise server, designed for applications and Web serving, supports up to two 800-MHz Pentium III Xeons. The ML530 is expandable to 8 hot-pluggable PCI slots. Pricing starts at $14,809.

 

Compaq unveiled its newest server in the Proliant line – the ML330, designed for the file/print applications in small and medium-size businesses. The ML330 supports Pentium III processors up to 866-MHz, up to 2 GB of memory, and 64-bit PCI slots.

 

The ML330 is the first server to feature the new streamlined ProLiant design, a look that will be featured in servers Compaq is introducing later this year.

 

Dell

Dell, too, jumped wholeheartedly into the rack-optimized arena early this year by introducing a PowerEdge 2450. The 2450 was one of the first servers to ship with Intel’s 2-way 800-MHz Xeon processors. Pricing for the PowerEdge 2450 starts at $2,999.

 

At the same time, Dell introduced its PowerEdge 4400 server, another 2-way box featuring 800-MHz Pentium III Xeons. Like the 2450, the 4400 features 133-MHz front-side bus technology that makes use of chipsets from RCC. Pricing for the 4400, available in tower and rack-optimized models, starts at $4,699.

 

Dell grabbed industry attention when it unveiled the PowerEdge 2400, a workgroup server, and the PowerEdge 4400, a departmental server. The 2-way 2400 features 667-MHz Pentium III processors and up to 2 GB of memory. The 2400 received high marks for performance, mainly because of the combination of the 667-MHz processors and 133-MHz front-side bus. Pricing for the server begins at $10,858.

 

The new PowerEdge 4400 is a 2-way server with 733-MHZ Pentium III processors and 1 GB of SDRAM. It features hot-swappable power supplies and peripherals, like video and RAID controllers and an Intel Pro/100 + NIC, integrated onto the motherboard. Pricing for the PowerEdge 4400 starts at $4,699.

– J.N.