The HP ProLiant DL580 is the ideal server for organization looking to support memory intensive workloads like virtualization and business critical enterprise applications. The HP ProLiant DL580 Gen8 combines the advanced serviceable design of the HP’s Gen8 system architecture with Intel’s latest Xeon E7-48000/8800 processing power. HP designed this system to deliver mission critical enterprise-level performance, extreme reliability and energy efficiency. The HP ProLiant DL580 Gen8’s huge memory capabilities and extreme processing power make it perfect for use in the private cloud as a virtualization server or running memory intensive applications like SQL Server 2014 In-Memory OLTP.

Enterprise Capable Hardware Platform

HP’s DL580 family has always been geared toward enterprise computing, which makes the advances that HP put into the new DL580 Gen8 pretty darned impressive. The newest DL580 Gen provides a 2.3X system performance improvement over the previous generation. To achieve that better performance, the DL580 has 50 percent more cores and 1.5X more memory slots (96 DIMMs). It also provides 2.7X more I/O bandwidth with a 2X SSD performance improvement using 12 Gbps SAS controllers. You can see the new HP DL580 Gen8 in Figure 1.

 Figure 1 - HP ProLiant DL580 Gen8

The HP DL580 Gen8 is a 4U rack mounted server that’s built around Intel’s latest Xeon E7-8800/4800 v2 processor, which offers a maximum processor speed of 3.4 Ghz. The processor offers a very high degree of flexibility and scalability. The HP DL580 Gen8 can be ordered with 2, 3 or 4 processors and each processor can support 6, 8, 10, 12 or 15 cores. In its fully-loaded configuration, the system can support a maximum of 60 processor cores and up to 3TB of RAM using its 96 DDR3 DIMM slots. The test unit came with four 2.8 Ghz CPUs and each CPU had 15 cores. For storage, the HP DL580 Gen 8 provides the HP Smart Array P830i controller with a new 12 Gbps SAS Controller. It supports up to 10 SFF drives. The test unit came with two 300 GB 15K SAS drives.  Network support is also highly configurable. You can get the unit with HP’s Flexible LOM that provides a choice of a 4-port 1GbE or a 2-port 10GbE. For internal expansion, the system provides nine PCI-e Gen3 slots that you can use for a variety of devices, including high performance PCIe SSDs. To support the system’s processing and memory capabilities, the system has up to four hot swappable 1,500 Watt power supplies

The power button is located on the front of the unit along with 2 USB 3.0 ports and a 15 pin VGA video port, and the system also has 4 hot-swap fans on the front of the chassis. The back of the system supplied one iLO management port, four 1 GB LOM NICs, four USB 3.0 ports, one 15 VGA port, and one 9 pin serial port. Notably, the HP DL580 Gen did not provide a built-in optical drive, so if you want to access DVD media, you’ll need an external USB connected optical drive.

Tool-Free Design

If you've never worked on the HP DL580 Gen8 line, you will be amazed the first time you open one of the cases. Much like the other HP Gen8 servers that I’ve tested in the Windows IT Pro labs, the HP DL580 Gen8 provides an efficient tool-free design. The chassis is easily accessible and internal cabling is extremely minimal, enabling maximum airflow through the system. The interior design of these systems is incredibly well thought-out and efficient. There are no loose cables all over the hardware; in fact, there are virtually no internal cables at all. Everything inside is very modular and organized, and you can access almost everything with no tools. To access the DL580 Gen8’s CPU and memory, you can use the CPU drawer on the front of the unit. There are four hot-swap fans on the front of the CPU drawer that you can remove independently by pinching together the red finger grips. The CPU drawer itself slides out of the unit without requiring you to remove the 4U chassis from your rack. This allows you to easily service the unit by adding or removing DIMMs and/or CPUs from the system. To remove the CPU drawer, you can press the blue button on the front of the unit, and it will release the CPU drawer handle. Pulling the handle slides the CPU drawer forward, and two secondary catches on the slides of the CPU drawer helpfully engage to prevent you from accidentally sliding the CPU drawer too far forward and dropping it. Removing the CPU drawer is a two-handed operation; the drawer weighs in at about 50 pounds.

There are eight separate DIMM cartridges in the CPU drawer. The DIMMs are all contained in cartridges that can be quickly snapped in and out by pressing the cartridge release button, then rotating the tabs at the end of each cartridge. The entire cartridge containing the DIMMs can then be lifted out of the CPU drawer. Once lifted out, the DIMM cartridges fold open like a book, allowing you to add and remove individual DIMMs. Each cartridge contains 12 DIMM slots. All this modification can be done without needing to remove the chassis from the rack.

Adding and removing PCIe adapter cards from the unit is also a completely tool-free operation. Pulling the latch on the top panel lets you remove the top panel, exposing the nine available PCIe adapter slots. A rocker bar secures all of the PCIe adapters in place. Pushing the blue tab on the side of the rocker bar allows it to roll up and out of the way, letting you access the PCIe adapter slots. The backing fillers can then be easily lifted out of place, allowing you to install PCIe adapters into the available slots. Once the adapters are in place, rolling the rocker bar down until the bar clicks into place secures the PCIe adapters. There are no screws to add or remove, and no tools are required.

While I love the overall design, there are a couple of little things that I wish the DL 580 Gen8 had. First, I wish the unit had three, or even four front USB ports. The DL 580 Gen8 only has two USB ports on the front of the unit. If you decide to connect a keyboard and mouse to the front there’s no room for anything else. Since the unit doesn’t have a built-in optical drive, that means you either need to use a USB hub, or you need to go around to the back in order to connect a USB optical or external hard drive.  The only option for an optical drive is an external adapter. Although I prefer using networked drives whenever possible, sometimes it’s handy to have a built-in DVD drive.

Out-of-Band Management

Intelligent Provisioning streamlined the initial system setup. Full featured out-of-band management is provided by HP’s Integrated Lights-Out (iLO) subsystems. You can see the HP DL580 Gen8 iLO’s Management screen in Figure 2.

 Figure 2 - HP iLO

You can connect to iLO as soon as the server is plugged in, and you don’t have to boot the system or run any other initial configuration tasks. The Power Management options that you can see on the left pane let you power the system on or off. Using iLO for power management is exactly like using the system’s button, but the advantage is that you can control the system’s power from anywhere that you can get an IP connection to the server’s iLO port. The iLO port uses DHCP to obtain an IP address by default but you can also configure it with a static IP. You can use the Remote Console options to display a remote console to the server. This is almost exactly like using RDP to manage the system. There’s both a Java and a.NET based remote console. In addition to remote administration capabilities, iLO also provides a wide array of system monitoring capabilities. In Figure 2 you can see the System and Devices overview display which gives you the big picture view of the overall system health. As you can see in the other tabs along the top of the System Information display, you can also dig into the details of almost every system component, including Fans, Temperatures, Power, Processors, Memory, Networking, and Storage.

HP provides several unique features to their ProLiant DL580 Gen8 to boost server reliability. The HP ProLiant DL580 Gen8 reliability features include HP Advanced Error Recovery, HP Memory Quarantine, HP Advanced Fault Resiliency, and HP Advanced Error Containment. HP Advanced Error Recovery enables the system to recover from fatal processor errors. HP Memory Quarantine deallocates memory if serious errors are found by the memory subsystem. HP Advanced Fault Resiliency provides fault tolerance for the memory and the chipset with support for memory mirroring.  HP Advanced Error Containment detects and contains PCIe IO errors. Active Health provides continuous monitoring of over 1600 system values. The Active Health subsystem also records all of the system configuration changes to enable more accurate problem resolution. All consolidated health and service alerts are time stamped to help you correlate related events for improved root cause diagnosis and problem resolution. Insight Remote Support automatically sends important service events to HP’s support center for remote troubleshooting and preemptive problem resolution by HP support personnel.

Enterprise Scalable Compute Power

Like most enterprise servers, the boot up process takes a little while. The system is a bit noisy with a good deal of fan noise. It is definitely designed to be run in an enclosed datacenter type of environment. The overall boot process takes about five minutes. The first three or so minutes are spent on system initialization tasks. The familiar HP Console is displayed after the system power-on self test (POST) tasks are completed. The HP Console allows you to perform a number of different system tasks including Intelligent Provisioning, running System Utilities, and changing the system boot order. The actual startup of the Windows Server 2012 R2 operating system only takes about a minute once the other system initialization tasks have been completed.

I put the system through a couple of different test scenarios. First, I configured the system as a physical database server using Windows Server 2012 Datacenter and SQL Server 2014 Enterprise edition and then ran our suite of benchmark scripts against the server. I did not optimize the system nor did I optimize the storage or the SQL Server configuration. I ran the test on the out-of-the-box setup for both the hardware and SQL Server 2014. Our lab’s current database benchmarks are a set of 27 T-SQL queries that use the AdventureWorks database. It quickly became clear that these tests were not able to adequately stress the system. The network connectivity on the client systems became a bottleneck before the any significant stress was put on the server system. To put a heavier load on the system, I then tested used the open source HammerDB load testing tool. HammerDB has the capability of simulating a either TPC-C or TPC-H type of workloads. Using the TPC-C tests I first tested with 100 virtual users, and the test only resulted in 1% CPU utilization. Ramping it up to 500 virtual users still only put an 8% load on the system and used 6% of the system’s physical memory. Bumping the test up to 1000 virtual users finally pushed the maximum CPU utilization to 12%. My final attempt with 10,000 virtual users caused HammerDB to display several bugs in the interfaces and the tool was not able to complete the run without an error.

Next, I added the Hyper-V Role and created a set of ten virtual machines with each virtual machine running Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard edition and SQL Server 2014 Enterprise edition. Each VM was configured with 6 virtual CPUs and they were all set to use Hyper-V dynamic memory. I then ran the HammerDB tests again on all ten VMs simultaneously with 100 virtual users, and then 500 virtual users. HammerDB really only pushed each VM to about 2% CPU utilization and the dynamic memory expanded to about 3-4 GB of vRAM for each VM. Somewhat surprisingly, this workload at both sets of user levels only pushed the system to a maximum of 10% CPU utilization and 20% RAM utilization. It was clear to me that the system was disk-bound as all of the I/O was funneled into the two DAS drives. The workload from the ten VMs didn’t even come close to consuming the available computing power. I have absolutely no doubt that changing the storage configuration to use more DAS drives (HDD or flash) or directing the VHDs to external SMB shares or a SAN would have enabled even greater levels of throughput.

The Bottom Line

The HP ProLiant DL580 Gen8 is certainly the most powerful system that we’ve tested in our labs to date. This system is really designed to be used as a virtualization platform to support multiple heavy workloads; it provides far more raw processing power than most standard physical workloads would ever require. As I learned from our testing, to take the best advantage of that power, you need to couple the system with high performance storage. If you’re looking for an enterprise-capable virtualization server then you should definitely put the HP ProLiant DL 580 Gen8 at the top of your short list. The HP ProLiant DL580 pricing starts at $13,079 and it ranges up to $50,279 for the fully loaded configuration. The standard server warranty includes three years of parts, labor, and on-site support coverage.