New computing trends such as virtualization, the private cloud, big data, and mobile computing have changed the IT landscape quicker in the past couple of years than it has ever changed before. These trends have also fueled an explosion in data storage requirements. The HP X5520 G2 Network Storage System is designed to address the storage concerns of medium- and large-sized organizations.

Dissecting the System

The HP X5520 G2 is two-node, active/active mid-range NAS cluster with shared storage. The fact that it's a two-node appliance means it has two X5460sb server blades in the chassis. Each server blade has one Intel Xeon quad-core E5620 processor. The X5520 G2 comes standard with 48GB Double Data Rate 3 (DDR3) Registered Error-Correcting Code (ECC) RAM. The RAM is divided into 24GB per X5460sb server blade, and the unit supports a maximum of 348GB per server. The X5520 G2 is delivered in a 3U chassis. Internally, it can provide up to 32TB of storage capacity and is expandable to more than 100TB externally by using HP D2000 Disk Enclosures. For connectivity, the X5520 G2 provides two 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) NC553i FlexFabric ports per controller. In addition, there are two 1GbE ports per controller and one 1GbE NC382m multifunction port per controller. You can see a picture of the HP X5520 G2 in Figure 1.

Figure 1: HP X5520 G2 Network Storage System
Figure 1: HP X5520 G2 Network Storage System 

The HP X5520 G2 is delivered as an appliance, which essentially means that the OS is preinstalled. The system that I tested came with Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 SP1, Enterprise x64 Edition, preinstalled and activated. Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 provides a number of advanced storage-management features, including:

  • File deduplication, which can recover up to 40 percent of disk space
  • File Classification Infrastructure, which enables context-based security
  • Support for functioning as a hosted BranchCache server, which provides efficient remote-office support
  • Support for user storage quotas
  • Storage reporting

The HP X5520 G2 supports both file and block access, allowing it to function as a NAS device and as an iSCSI SAN. It supports the Common Internet File System (CIFS), Server Message Block (SMB), NFS, iSCSI, HTTP, FTP, and WWW Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV) protocols and can be used as an iSCSI target. The Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 iSCSI Software Target provides block-level storage as disk volumes, which can be mounted by any client running an iSCSI initiator. The iSCSI target uses space that's allocated as Virtual Hard Disks (VHDs) within the HP X5520 G2. This provides a simplified model for storage management.

Getting the System Up and Running

With the system weighing in at about 190 pounds, installing the HP X5520 G2 is definitely a two person job. Connections for the server were a bit different from a standard rack-mount server. The power button is in the back, showing that the unit is really meant for hands-off operations. Notably, there are no keyboard, mouse, VGA, or USB ports on the back of the HP X5520 G2. Likewise, the unit doesn't have a built-in DVD drive. To connect a monitor and keyboard to the unit, you use a multifunction port that provides two 9-pin VGA connectors (one male and one female) and two USB ports.

The initial power up is performed by pressing the power button in the back of the unit. The initial setup of the appliance is performed through HP's Integrated Lights-Out (iLO) out-of-band management technology. Like most small form factor units, the system is loud and should be run in a noise enclosure.

After initially powering up the chassis, each node needs to be powered up using the iLO console. Then, you can connect to one of the nodes through the iLO console, where you can use the Set Up Wizard to perform the initial server configuration. The first startup configuration allows you to configure basic connectivity such as the networking requirements. After the initial configuration, the system reboots and the HP Initial Configuration Tasks window is displayed. You can see the Initial Configuration Tasks window in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Initial Configuration Tasks window
Figure 2: Initial Configuration Tasks window 

To complete the setup, you basically step through each of the different tasks. The first few tasks prompt you for each node's networking configurations, the time zone, and some basic cluster information. After completing the Provide cluster name and domain task, both nodes will reboot. The remaining tasks include creating the two-node cluster and deploying one or more file servers on it. Overall, setup was simple, especially considering that I was configuring a two-node cluster that contained highly available file servers. The setup process took about an hour to go from power up to file-serving availability.

I tested the system both as a NAS device (file access) and as an iSCSI target (block access). The system functioned flawlessly for both types of roles.

As a NAS device, it fit right in with my existing Windows infrastructure. Clients connected to the client access point configured in the wizard, and the file shares were all highly available and protected by the built-in Windows Storage Server failover clustering. The file deduplication capabilities worked as advertised.

As an iSCSI target, I found that the HP X5520 G2 was fully compatible with Hyper-V's Live Migration. The system consumed about 120.9 watts while it was running and active.

A Great Storage Solution

The HP X5520 G2 is a great storage solution. Because the Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 OS is preinstalled, the HP X5520 G2 can be deployed very rapidly. Built-in clustering provides high availability, and the OS's ability to perform deduplication provides significant storage savings and efficiency. The HP X5520 G2's ability to provide both file and block access enables it to be flexible enough to handle all the storage requirements of medium- and large-sized businesses.

HP X5520 G2 Network Storage System
PROS: Rugged construction; excellent price/performance ratio; very flexible storage capabilities; built-in high availability; easy setup
CONS: Rear-mounted power button difficult to access; front-mounted keyboard and VGA attachment didn't fit well in my rack
RATING: 4.5 out of 5
PRICE: Starts at $30,229 (tested configuration: $30,229)
RECOMMENDATION: The HP X5520 G2 is a great choice for businesses looking to add highly available file shares or iSCSI storage to their infrastructure.
CONTACT: HP • 800-752-0900 or 650-857-1501 •