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HP's virtualization special: The eight-socket DL785 G5

HP's new eight-way ProLiant is a behemoth packed with quad-core Opteron processors and up to 512 GB of memory, while its Insight Manager software improves virtual machine support.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Hewlett-Packard Co. embraced virtualization in full this week with its introduction of new machine management software and a beefy eight-way server packed with 512 GB of memory that is the polar opposite of the company's compact blade servers.

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The new 7U server, the HP ProLiant DL785 G5, is affectionately referred to by HP as "Octane" and was designed specifically for server consolidation and virtualization, said Hannah Lewis, product manager for the DL785 G5. Introduced on March 17, the server is part of the HP Data Center Transformation portfolio.

The box will compete with eight-way servers from Sun Microsystems Inc. and IBM Corp.'s scalable four-way servers. HP won't have performance data on the new server until the offering ships in May 2008, but Lewis said she expects DL785 to be highly competitive with other eight-socket offerings, especially when it comes to I/O throughput.

"Memory and I/O are very important in a virtual environment. We wanted to improve I/O throughput so performance is maximized," Lewis said. The system supports 11 PCI Express (PCIe) slots, and other eight-socket models of the DL785 due out later this year will allow users to upgrade to HTx (HyperTransfer connector). These slots are just being introduced to the marketplace.

The initial releases of the eight-socket server support 2.2 GHz and 2.3 GHz Opteron options. HP chose AMD's quad-core Opteron processor rather than Intel Xeon quad-core processors because Opteron's features -- such as lower-latency memory, a dual-dynamic power manager, virtual machine indexing and Direct Connect Architecture -- all facilitate virtualization, said Lewis.

Other DL785 G5 specs include up to 64 dual in-line memory (DIMM) slots for 256 GB of memory using 4 GB memory sticks. The servers will also support 8 GB memory sticks in the future, bringing the system total up to 512 GB of memory.

Burton Group analyst Nik Simpson blogged about the ProLiant DL785 G5, which marks HP's return to the eight-way market after a three-year hiatus. Simpson found the DL785 server specs -- especially the amount of DIMM sockets for memory and its 11 PCIe expansion cards -- impressive.

During the late 1990s, Simpson noted, eight-way servers initially had low scalability because of their shared-memory architecture. That shouldn't be a problem now, because "AMD's Opteron design doesn't have a shared-memory bus, each processor has dedicated memory and I/O channels which should help a lot with scalability," Simpson wrote.

And a decade ago, before virtualization became mainstream, eight-way x86 servers weren't as useful to the average IT user. "The market has changed," Simpson wrote. "Now, with server virtualization, you can easily run multiple workloads on the box, so the issue of finding a single application that can do something useful [on] an eight-way has changed dramatically. It's not one workload, it's tens of virtual machines sharing the box."

The DL785 supports virtualization software from VMware Inc., Microsoft, and the Xen variants of Citrix Systems Inc. OSes supported by the new server include Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008, Linux, and Solaris.

The DL785 also includes HP Systems Insight Manager, HP Insight Control, HP Integrated Lights-Out 2 and HP ProLiant Essentials packs, features to which customers are accustomed in other ProLiant server offerings. Users can also add memory, processor, drive and controller expansions as application demands increase. .

As for HP's "blade everything" mantra, the company still plays that tune, but as Simpson succinctly noted, "while blades work well for some things, if you are looking for really high consolidation rates as you virtualize workloads, you really can't beat a honking big box."

Starting prices for minimal configurations of the DL785 are $17,000 and up.

New VM management software
HP also introduced the virtualization-friendly version of HP Insight Manager, HP Insight Dynamics -- Virtual Server Environment (VSE) to manage both physical and virtual machines. As it stands, HP Insight Manager has relatively few virtual machine management features, according to Frances Guida, the manager of virtualization and HP infrastructure software, so HP will charge a fee to Insight Manager users for the Insight Dynamics VSE upgrade. Pricing will not be released until the product ships in the second quarter of 2008, Guida said.

Among Insight Dynamics VSE features are analysis capabilities, capacity planning and a unified interface. For example, virtualization managers might use this product to look at I/O performance and diagnose whether an I/O problem is due to excess VM traffic or a physical network card problem, Guida said. Insight Dynamics VSE can also analyze virtual and physical environment and perform tasks like moving profiles between physical blade servers for quicker provisioning of resources, Guida said.

The software currently supports VMware-based virtualization and HP Integrity-based virtual machines, though HP plans to expand support other virtualization vendors for ProLiant line in the future, Guida said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

Also, check out our news blog at Server Virtualization Blog.

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