A well-designed server with solid performance

HP's NetServer LH 4 fits environments that require either high-end departmental servers or entry-level enterprise servers. Configured as a Pentium III Xeon-based, quad-processor-capable server, the LH 4 has plenty of performance and expansion capacity. And the performance results from benchmark testing show HP's excellent engineering design and attention to detail.

Decked with Specs
HP sent me an LH 4 with four 500MHz Pentium III Xeon processors with a 512KB Level 2 cache. HP used Intel's 450NX PSI chipset in these processors. Other features of the review model included 4GB of Error Correcting Code (ECC) buffered Enhanced Data Output (EDO) DRAM, seven Seagate Cheetah 9.1GB Ultra 2 (Low Voltage Differential—LVD) disk drives, and four Intel 10/100 Ethernet adapter cards. For benchmark testing, I used a configuration with 512MB of RAM that costs $21,229.

Many LH 4 features are on system boards. These features include a NetRAID dual-channel Disk Array Controller and a 1MB VGA video adapter (upgradable to 2MB), and the usual parallel keyboard and mouse ports. The system doesn't have a Universal Serial Bus (USB) port, but most server applications don't require a USB. The LH 4 also comes with a 3.5" disk drive and a CD-ROM drive.

The LH 4's design lets you easily maintain and upgrade the system. I unlocked the front bezel by pushing a button. Three thumbscrews hold the three cover panels in place. The thumbscrews stay with the panels, so you can't lose them. You don't have to hunker down in the back of the system to push cords and cables out the way, because the panels slide to the front of the system cabinet.

The LH 4 has two main system boards. The I/O system board has the expansion card slots, integrated SCSI adapters, and integrated HP NetRAID controller. The CPU, memory, and integrated VGA controller are on a separate board that you can remove and replace without removing expansion cards. Removing the left cover panel exposes the I/O board and the expansion card slots. The system has eight PCI slots (two 64-bit slots and six 32-bit slots) and one shared ISA 32-bit slot. Intel's 450NX PSI chipset provides quad-processor support.

The NetRAID controller's Intel i960 processor and three SCSI connectors take prominent positions on the I/O system board. The SCSI connectors consist of two Ultra 2 connectors for SCSI channels A and B, and a separate single-ended SCSI connector for attaching non-hot-swappable SCSI devices to SCSI channel A. A BIOS configuration setting lets you decide to manage SCSI channel A, SCSI channel B, or both channels with the NetRAID controller.

The storage expansion feature includes one hot-swappable mass storage cage and an optional second cage. Each cage can hold up to six low profile (1") or four half-height (1.6") Ultra 2 SCSI LVD hard disks. You can place two standard SCSI (i.e., non-Ultra 2) half-height devices in the storage shelves under the CD-ROM drive and connect them to the single-ended SCSI connector. Instead of the optional internal mass-storage cage, you can use the spare SCSI cable to connect an external SCSI cabinet to SCSI channel B.

HP's excellent design appears in several LH 4 components. You can easily access all the components (i.e., expansion cards, memory, CPUs, hot-swappable hard disks, and removable media drives) for routine system maintenance and upgrades. Two pairs of hot-swappable cooling fans sit between the power supplies and the drive cages. You can replace the fans by simply loosening one thumbscrew, and the integrated electrical connector means you don't have to unplug a power cable. You can access the CPU and memory from the top or from the right. After you remove the top panel, you can lift out the entire CPU and memory assembly without unplugging any internal cables. I removed the right side panel and loosened one thumbscrew to remove the two memory cards' cover. Each memory card slides out easily and holds eight DIMMs.

HP configured six Seagate Cheetah ST39102LC 9.1GB Ultra 2 LVD disk drives attached to SCSI channel B as a RAID 0 array with a 16KB stripe size and Writethru, Normal Readahead, and cached I/O RAID options. In the BIOS, HP configured the system so the NetRAID controller doesn't control the other Cheetah drive attached to SCSI channel A. The system utilized the first 2GB of the drive attached to SCSI channel A as the boot and paging volume.

Performance Testing
I used Bluecurve's Dynameasure benchmarking tool to assess the LH 4's performance. Dynameasure's standard file workload performs 50 percent read operations and 50 percent write operations between the buffer of the load-generating client-computer systems and the LH 4's disk subsystem. I created a 5GB test data set on a 13GB volume on the six-disk RAID 0 array. Using the MAXMEM option in boot.ini, I dialed back to 512MB the memory that Windows NT would utilize. Lowering NT's memory requirement minimized the effect of serverside caching during the benchmark runs. The average throughput of 9047KBps for three test runs was the best result that the Windows NT Magazine Lab has seen in a quad-Xeon system. CPU utilization averaged about 65 percent, which indicated that the CPU had some remaining capacity.

Tools to Manage
HP provides standard and optional systems-management tools. TopTools for Servers, OpenView ManageX/SE, and Integrated Remote Assistant are standard applications; TopTools Remote Control Card is optional.

OpenView ManageX/SE, a member of HP's OpenView family of network and systems management tools, manages the local server. OpenView ManageX/SE runs under the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) and supports Event Management, Application Management, and Capacity Planning.

TopTools for Servers is a Desktop Management Interface (DMI)- and SNMP-compliant package that assists you in the daily monitoring and maintenance of NetServers. The TopTools Auto Alert component lets you consolidate alerts from multiple NetServers to one console. TopTools Integrated Device Manager is a browser-based tool for viewing device information and alerts from your NetServer and other SNMP- and DMI-managed hardware. The Integrated Device Manager performs an IP- or IPX-based device discovery starting with a list of routers and networks that you specify in the application. In addition to simple-device discovery, TopTools retrieves information about DMI-based computers and SNMP-based network devices and maintains a device inventory database. You can integrate TopTools into HP OpenView Network Node Manager, Computer Associates' Unicenter, and Tivoli Systems' NetView.

The Integrated Remote Assistant lets you remotely control your server's operation. You can connect to the server's COM 2 serial port either directly or with a modem, and you have the choice of two operating modes: terminal emulator mode and pcANYWHERE32 mode. Terminal emulator mode lets you view the hardware event log, reset the server, or boot to the utility partition to perform remote BIOS updates or run DOS-based diagnostic utilities. You can use terminal emulator mode when using a terminal emulator program. You can do everything in pcANYWHERE32 mode that you do in terminal emulator mode and more. When you install Symantec's pcANYWHERE32 on both the server and the remote console, you have full remote access to the NT console. However, the server must run NT to use pcANYWHERE32 mode.

You can connect a modem to the port to configure the system to alert you by pager when the application generates DMI-based alerts. You can expose DMI-based information to SNMP-server applications with the application of a supplied SNMP agent and Management Information Base (MIB).

HP's optional TopTools Remote Control card offers you a full-featured remote management option. Combined with a built-in 10/100 Ethernet interface, Web support, and an independent power supply, this add-in card lets you use your Web browser to manage the system, including the remote power control.

The new LH 4 quad 500 MHz Pentium III Xeon system impressed me as much as its predecessor, NetServer LH 3 (see "NetServer LH 3," December 1998). HP prices servers higher than other manufacturers—RAM is especially expensive—but the LH 4 is an excellent value. The system's solid performance, expansion capacity, and design details make it easy to recommend.

HP NetServer LH 4
Contact: HP * 408-246-4300
Web: http://www.hp.com
Price: $36,686 with 4GB of RAM; $21,229 as benchmarked with 512MB of RAM
System Configuration: Four 500MHz Pentium III Xeon processors, 512KB Error Correcting Code cache on each processor, 4GB of Error Correcting Code buffered Enhanced Data Output DRAM, Seven HP/Seagate Cheetah 9.1GB Ultra2 Low Voltage Differential hard disks, Integrated HP NetRAID dual-channel RAID controller, Four HP/Intel 10/100 Ethernet adapters, 3.5" disk drive, CD-ROM drive
Corrections to this Article:
  • "HP NetServer LH4" (August 1999) displayed an incorrect photo of the LH4. The October 1999 issue, page 20, displays the correct photo.