Some Windows server applications require prodigious amounts of processing power. If you use such applications, you're aware of the challenges you face when selecting server hardware. New servers based on Intel Itanium 2 and Xeon processors can supply the processing power you need. Intel's next-generation Itanium 2 processors (code-named Madison) are now available, and most of the vendors I mention have announced Madison-based models in time for this article. But all the Itanium 2 servers I discuss are Madison-ready, so their features won't change. (For a complete list of vendors that offer Itanium 2–based systems, see the Intel Web site at http://www .intel.com/buy/wtb/wtb1008.htm?iid=ipp_srvr_proc_itanium2+ relate_buysrv&.) Servers based on Advanced Micro Devices' (AMD's) AMD Athlon MP and AMD Opteron series of processors are another alternative. AMD Opteron processor systems weren't available when I wrote this article, but AMD's Web site lists many vendors that offer both AMD Opteron and AMD Athlon MP–based servers. You can view this list at http://www.amd.com/us-en/Processors/ComputingSolutions/0,,30_288_3091_3929,00.html.

Itanium 2 Systems
At the top of the Wintel heap sits the Itanium 2. Itanium 2 systems draw their performance advantages from several new features, including

  • support for explicitly parallel instruction execution
  • intelligent compilers that achieve higher levels of parallel-instruction-processing efficiency and recognize opportunities to preload data into cache memory, thereby reducing processing delays that result from memory access latency
  • greatly expanded processor hardware resources, including additional instruction execution units and a system bus bandwidth of 6.4GBps*three times faster than the previous Itanium processor

In the simplest terms, a processor's core function is to take data from system memory and do something with it. In parallel processing, a processor takes parts of a program that would otherwise run sequentially and runs them simultaneously. To achieve high levels of parallel processing, the processor must do a good job of determining which data won't be affected by processing of other data so that the processor can process the two data sets in parallel without adverse results. The Itanium 2 architecture adds a feature set that Intel calls Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing. EPIC lets the compiler designate code segments that can run in parallel and recognize parallel processing opportunities in code. Similarly, the compiler looks for ways to reduce memory access latency*the time the processor must wait after loading data into a memory location before it can access that data*by loading data several instruction cycles before using it. The original Itanium 2 processor operated at 900MHz or 1.0GHz with 1.5MB or 3.0MB of Level 3 cache. Madison processors expand the line with 1.3GHz, 1.4GHz, and 1.5GHz models with 3.0MB, 4.0MB, and 6.0MB of Level 3 cache, respectively.

Several vendors offer Itanium 2–based systems. Let's look at systems from Dell, HP, IBM, NEC Solutions America, and Unisys. For pricing information for these systems, see Table 1.

Dell's PowerEdge 3250
Dell's PowerEdge 3250 supports one or two Madison processors in a 2U (3.5") rack-mount chassis. This server, which Dell built around the Intel E8870 chipset, supports 16GB of RAM. The PowerEdge 3250 includes two 100MHz PCI Extended (PCI-X) slots and one 133MHz PCI-X slot, as well as a RAID 1 controller for mirroring attached SCSI hard disks. The server supports Windows Server 2003 and Red Hat Linux. Two embedded Gigabit Ethernet adapters help conserve PCI slots. Cluster configurations are also available from Dell.

HP Itanium 2 Systems
HP offers three Itanium 2 servers. The HP Integrity rx2600 is available with one or two processors running at 1.3GHz or 1.5GHz, as much as 24GB of RAM, and four 133MHz PCI-X slots. (For more information about PCI-X, see Lab Notes, "The Chase Is On," August 2000, http://www.winnetmag.com, InstantDoc ID 9064.) The HP Integrity rx5670 supports four processors and 96GB of RAM and has three 133MHz PCI-X slots, six 66MHz PCI-X slots, and one 33MHz PCI slot. The HP Integrity Superdome supports as many as sixty-four 1.5GHz processors, as much as 512GB of RAM, and as many as 192 I/O slots when using available expansion units.

HP designed the servers to run Windows 2003, Enterprise Edition (64-bit). The systems also support HP-UX, SuSE Linux (except HP Integrity Superdome), and Red Hat Linux, and HP plans to add OpenVMS support. HP built the rx2600 and rx5670 systems around its zx1 chipset and the Superdome around its sx1000 chipset; all systems support Itanium 2's 6.4GBps system bus bandwidth. All models include service processors that have an auxiliary Ethernet port for remote systems management and monitoring and interface with leading systems management platforms, such as HP OpenView.

IBM eServer xSeries 450
IBM's offering in the Itanium 2 market is the IBM eServer xSeries 450. The system is encased in a 4U (7") rack-mount cabinet and supports as many as four Itanium 2 processors at speeds as fast as 1.5GHz. Six PCI-X slots are standard*two 133MHz, two 100MHz, and two 66MHz. IBM's Remote I/O features let you place one 3U (5.25") rack-mount enclosure with 6 or 12 additional PCI-X slots as far as 8 meters away from the system cabinet for enhanced system configuration flexibility. The xSeries 450 supports 40GB of RAM. IBM also offers the IBM eServer xSeries 382, with two 1.5GHz Itanium 2 processors and 4GB of SDRAM in a 2U rack-mount chassis.

IBM built the servers around its XA-64 chipset, which implements IBM Chipkill Memory to offer enhanced 4-bit memory protection when you use industry-standard DIMMs. Chipkill enhances Error-Correcting Code (ECC) memory fault tolerance by correcting multiple single-bit errors that occur on a DIMM. Memory ProteXion lets the system tolerate a memory chip failure by employing otherwise unused bits in ECC memory. The systems also support Level 4 Cache (XceL4 Server Accelerator Cache, as IBM calls it), which enhances system performance through the use of as much as 16MB of Level 4 cache per system. An Ultra320 SCSI controller with integrated RAID 1 support lets you mirror the two hot-swappable SCSI drives that the cabinet supports. Light Path Diagnostics, a hardware feature that helps you determine the cause of problems, provides a visual display of the health of system components on a front diagnostic panel. IBM plans future models that will let you combine as many as 4 of the 4U xSeries 450 systems and enable scaling with as many as 16.

Because of an error that affects the 900MHz and 1GHz Itanium 2 processors, IBM sold earlier xSeries 450 systems only on a case-by-case basis. A workaround configuration drops processor clock speed to 800MHz. The systems are Madison-ready, so existing clients will receive upgraded processors when they become available.

NEC Express5800/1000
NEC offers three Itanium 2 models in its NEC Express5800/1000 server line. Each model supports at least eight processors (either 1GHz or 900MHz versions). The Express5800/1080Rc supports as many as eight processors in an 8U (14") rack-mount cabinet, four internal disk drives, 8GB to 16GB of RAM, and as many as 26 PCI slots. The 1080Rc runs either Windows 2003 Enterprise Edition or Windows 2003, Datacenter Edition (64-bit). The Express5800/1160Xc supports 16 processors, 8GB to 256GB of RAM, and 56 PCI slots. The Express5800/1320Xc supports 32 processors, 8GB to 512GB of RAM, and 112 PCI slots. The 1160Xc and 1320Xc are floor-standing models that run Windows 2003 Datacenter Edition and have six internal hard disk slots.

Models of the Express5800/1000 server line that run Linux are also available, and NEC sells models outside the United States that support HP-UX. According to a NEC spokesperson, the low latency switching architecture that enables communication between each group of four processors (cells) enables single-system configurations with as many as 32 CPUs. NEC also announced a new TX7 series of Itanium 2 (Madison)­based servers configured with as many as 32 processors that support only HP-UX and Linux. Initially, these systems will be available only in Japan, according to NEC.

Unisys ES7000 Itanium 2 Systems
Unisys offers several Itanium 2 models in its ES7000 series of servers. The ES7000 Aries 410 system supports four or eight processors, 64GB of RAM, and sixteen 133MHz PCI-X slots. The ES7000 Aries 420 system supports 16 processors (in groups of 4) and thirty-two 100MHz PCI-X slots. The server supports one or two partitions (individually bootable instances of an OS) and 128GB of RAM.

The ES7000 Orion 430 and ES7000 Orion 560 systems are partitionable servers for database, server consolidation, and other high-demand applications. Both support as much as 128GB of RAM in each of two 64-bit power domains (256GB total) with as many as 16 Itanium 2 processors in each domain. You can configure each domain for one or two partitions, dividing the domain's processors between partitions in groups of four. In addition, the Orion 560 supports 16 to 32 Intel Xeon processor MP processors in two 32-bit power domains, supporting as many as eight four-processor 32-bit partitions. You can also add as many as 42 Pentium III 700 blade servers, each with its own memory and network port. All systems include a dedicated service processor and Unisys Server Sentinel software, which enables remote administration, system health monitoring, and "call home" fault notification, which enables the system to call a Unisys service center when it detects a problem.

Xeon Systems
Intel designed its Xeon processor MP for multiprocessor systems. The processor is available at speeds as fast as 2.8GHz and with as much as 2MB of Level 3 cache. Intel calls the collection of features supporting the high clock rate of the Xeon processor MP its NetBurst architecture. The processor is designed to support a 400MHz system bus for improved memory and I/O throughput, including support for 133MHz PCI-X I/O slots. Intel Hyper-Threading Technology also increases processor throughput. Each processor includes the hardware resources necessary to maintain the state of two application threads, which lets them share the same set of processor execution resources more effectively. For pricing information for these systems, see Table 2.

HP ProLiant DL740 and DL760G2
HP offers two high-end eight-way IA-32 servers: the HP ProLiant DL740 and the HP ProLiant DL760G2. The two models have several features in common. Both support four or eight 1.5GHz or 2GHz Xeon processors and as much as 64GB of addressable 133MHz SDRAM. HP designed each system around its F8 chipset, and both support a 400MHz system bus. Both include four 1" hot-pluggable drive bays and an integrated Ultra3 SCSI–based RAID controller that supports RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 0+1, and RAID 5.

Both servers distinguish themselves from earlier designs with support for hot-pluggable RAID memory. RAID memory does for system RAM what a RAID disk controller does for disk storage. In HP's implementation, 40 DIMM slots are divided between five hot-pluggable memory modules. Using RAID 4 algorithms, the system stripes data across four of the memory modules, and the fifth holds parity data. LEDs show the status of each installed DIMM. In the event of a DIMM failure, you simply remove the memory module that holds the failed DIMM, replace the DIMM, and reinstall the module. On the ProLiant DL740, you access the memory modules from the top. On the ProLiant DL760G2, the memory modules are front-accessible.

The ProLiant DL740 has a 4U rack-mount chassis, six 64-bit 100MHz PCI-X slots, two integrated 1GB network ports, and an integrated Remote Insight Lights-Out Edition adapter for remote server management. The ProLiant DL760G2 has a 7U (12.25") rack-mount chassis, ten 64-bit 100MHz PCI-X slots, and one integrated 1GB network adapter. Remote server management is an optional feature that uses the Remote Insight Lights-Out Edition II card, which HP designed to use the server's 33MHz PCI slot.

IBM eServer xSeries 445
The IBM eServer xSeries 445 scales up to a 16-way server when using Xeon processor MP processors that run at speeds of 2.0GHz to 2.8GHz; IBM plans support for 32-way configurations by the end of the year. (The xSeries 445 supports two- or four-way configurations when using the Xeon DP processor at speeds as fast as 3GHz.) Two interconnected chassis make up the 16-way system. Each 4U (7") chassis supports as many as two SMP Expansion Modules, each of which can hold as many as four processors. IBM built the system around a second generation of its XA-32 chipset, which supports a 400MHz system bus. Each chassis supports six PCI-X slots, two each at speeds of 66MHz, 100MHz, and 133MHz. Using the Remote I/O expansion chassis, you can add an additional six PCI-X slots (12 in a 16-way system). Each chassis holds two hot-swap SCSI hard disk drives, supported by an integrated Ultra320 SCSI controller. An integrated RAID module lets you mirror the disks.

The 16-way xSeries 445 supports a maximum of 128GB of RAM, which you can install by placing 2GB DIMMs in the 16 DIMM sockets in each SMP Expansion Module. Each SMP Expansion Module also supports 64MB of XceL4 Server Accelerator Cache for improved system performance. The xSeries 445 has several advanced memory-management features to improve system reliability and tolerance of memory module failures. The memory controller in each SMP Expansion Module supports memory mirroring, which you turn on or off in the system BIOS. When mirroring is turned on for an expansion module, the OS sees half of the memory installed in the expansion module and the controller mirrors the first half to the other half of the installed memory. When a DIMM fails, IBM's built-in Light Path Diagnostics lets you know. The system supports hot-swap memory, which lets you replace a failing module without affecting system operation.

Unisys ES7000 Xeon SMP Systems
Unisys offers five Xeon processor MP–based models in its ES7000 line: the ES7000 Aries 510, ES7000 Aries 520, ES7000 Orion 530, ES7000 Orion 540, and ES7000 Orion 550. All models support either the 1.5GHz or 2.0GHz versions of the Xeon processor MP chip. On the low end, the Aries 510 supports four, six, or eight processors, 16GB of RAM, and eight I/O slots. The Aries 520 supports eight, twelve, or sixteen processors running one or two instances of supported OSs. The Orion 530, which Unisys designed for server cluster operation, supports two 16-processor nodes. The Orion 540 supports from 16 to 32 processors (in four-processor increments) and four OS instances. On the high end, the Orion 560 supports 16 to 32 processors in two domains, 42 Pentium III blade servers, 148GB of RAM, and 138 I/O slots.

ES7000 series processors are built around a 4U (7") rack-mountable cell that contains four to eight processors. You can connect as many as four cells to scale servers to as many as 32 processors. All models include a dedicated service processor for remote management and a version of the Unisys Server Sentinel software. The Orion 530 cluster server supports either Windows 2003 or Windows 2000 Datacenter Server only. All other models support Windows 2003 Enterprise Edition, Win2K Advanced Server, SCO's UnixWare 7.1.3, and SCO Linux Server 4.0. Models 550, 540, and 520 also support Windows 2003 Datacenter and Win2K Datacenter.

Several Great Choices
Hungry for computing power? I've presented just a few of the many solid choices in the high-end server market. At $5999 (for the one-processor configuration), the PowerEdge 3250 is on the affordable end of the Itanium 2 spectrum. For cutting-edge expandability, look to the high-end offerings from HP, NEC, and Unisys. With as many as 64 Itanium 2 processors, these systems give you ample resources for handling server consolidation and demanding database applications. If your preference is for proven technology, Xeon-based alternatives still pack plenty of punch. And, although I didn't discuss them here, AMD Athlon MP and AMD Opteron–based systems will be the right choice for many others.

Contact the Vendors
AMD ATHLON MP, AMD OPTERON
Advanced Micro Devices * 408-749-3060
http://www.amd.com

ES7000 ARIES 510, ES7000 ARIES 520, ES7000 ORION 530, ES7000 ORION 540, ES7000 ORION 550, ES7000 ORION 560
Unisys * 585-742-6865 or 800-874-8647
http://www.unisys.com

HP INTEGRITY RX2600, HP INTEGRITY RX5670, HP INTEGRITY SUPERDOME, HP PROLIANT DL740, HP PROLIANT DL760G2
HP * 800-752-0900
http://www.hp.com

IBM ESERVER XSERIES 450, IBM ESERVER XSERIES 382, IBM ESERVER XSERIES 445
IBM * 800-426-7777
http://www.ibm.com/servers

ITANIUM 2, XEON PROCESSOR MP
Intel * 800-538-3373
http://www.intel.com

NEC EXPRESS5800/1080RC, NEC EXPRESS5800/1160XC, NEC EXPRESS5800/1320XC
NEC Solutions America * 916-463-7000
http://www.necsolutions-am.com

POWEREDGE 3250
Dell * 800-999-3355
http://www.dell.com