Great engineering in a compact server

The quality of engineering in HP products has always impressed me, and HP's new departmental server, the NetServer LH 3, is no exception. The LH 3's packaging, management capabilities, performance, and expandability make this system easy to recommend. Despite the LH 3's small size (19.5" x 14" x 29.5"), the system has a lot of power.

The LH 3 is available as a rack-mountable system or in a standard pedestal case. The LH 3 uses the Intel 440BX chipset (which supports the 100MHz system bus) and supports dual Deschutes Slot 1 Pentium II processors. If you purchase the optional second drive cage, the LH 3 has room for 12 hot-swappable, low-profile hard disks and 2 standard half-height devices. An Ultra 2 (or Low Voltage Differential--LVD), 80MB per second (MBps) SCSI channel services each drive cage. A single-ended (50-pin) connection connects into the primary SCSI channel. You can connect a boot device, tape drive, or similar standard SCSI device into this channel. The two SCSI channels support the onboard RAID controller, which HP has built around the Symbios Logic 53C895 chipset. The RAID controller has 16MB of write-back cache and supports the Intelligent Input/Output (I2O) specification. The LH 3 has plenty of additional IO capacity: eight PCI slots (including one that the system's ISA slot shares and one that the standard 10/100 Ethernet adapter uses), an integrated 1MB VGA controller (upgradeable to 2MB), a CD-ROM drive, a parallel port, and two serial ports.

With six hot-swappable fans, the LH 3 runs cool. A fan can fail without causing the internal hot spots that lead to system failures. You can purchase the Totally Cool redundant fan option, which adds two hot-swappable fans. The two additional fans provide an extra margin of safety if you upgrade to HP's quad Xeon Pentium II processors.

Out of the Box
The system's packaging turns into a corrugated-cardboard foldout loading ramp with wheel supports. The supports slip onto the loading ramp, and the system easily rolls from the shipping pallet on casters. If you've ever tried to wrestle a double-wide system from its packaging, you'll appreciate this extra feature.

The first thing I wanted to do was take the system apart to see what was inside. With the push of a button, I removed the front bezel from the system. A thumbscrew holds the panels (two on the side and one on the top) in place. These thumbscrews stay with the panel when you remove it. Thus, you can't easily misplace the thumbscrews. Each set of four PCI slots has a bracket that you can remove if you take out a screw.

You can upgrade the LH 3 system. Processors and memory are not on the circuit board that holds the expansion slots. You can remove the circuit board that holds the processors and memory without removing any cards from the expansion slots. This setup lets you easily install the quad Xeon upgrade.

Systems Management
You can use the LH 3 in an office environment or in an enterprise-management environment. The LH 3 has several significant standard systems-management features and optional extended capabilities. These features and extended capabilities are the Integrated Remote Assistant Board; HP's OpenView ManageX/SE, TopTools, and TopTools Remote Control Card; and Computer Associates (CA)/Unicenter TNG Framework.

HP NetserverThe Integrated Remote Assistant Board. The Integrated Remote Assistant Board supports several remote administration functions. The board includes a serial port and a processor that operates independently of the system processors. The most basic way to use the remote administration features is to connect the serial port to a dumb terminal directly or through a modem. You can then view the LH 3's event log, display the system's operational status, power up the system, reboot to the Utility Partition to run DOS programs and perform system configuration tasks, or configure the event-management and pager features. You can also access text-based operating system (OS) console presentations (e.g., those available under Novell NetWare, UNIX, and OS/2).

You can step to the next level and use the Integrated Remote Assistant Board's Console Redirection mode with Symantec's pcANYWHERE32, which also comes with the LH 3. When you use the Console Redirection mode with pcANYWHERE32, you have full remote control access to the Windows NT GUI, and you can perform basic remote administration functions. In addition, you have standard pcANYWHERE32-style remote control access to the server, and you can transfer files to and from the server's Utility Partition. If you use the Console Redirection mode with pcANYWERE32, you must enable the Integrated Remote Assistant's serial port as a COM port that the server's OS can use, then install pcANYWHERE32 as an NT application. When you use the pcANYWHERE32 client on your remote dial-up computer, you can connect to the remote administration port and select the NT Graphics Console Redirection mode. Alternatively, when you select the Management Port Passthru option from the Integrated Remote Assistant menu, you can configure other applications on the server to use the remote administration COM port and connect to other applications.

OpenView ManageX/SE. OpenView ManageX/SE, a component of the OpenView suite of network-management and systems-management software, is a scaled-down version of ManageX. ManageX/SE supports event-log consolidation when multiple servers run the soft- ware. ManageX/SE also functions as a performance monitor that can trigger events when you use the program with policies for NT-based systems. Event-log messages and predefined performance thresholds can trigger a variety of events, including ActiveX script execution, system command execution, email, and Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) trap generation.

TopTools. TopTools monitors server hardware. This utility detects critical system component failures and detects symptoms of potential problems on monitored server hardware elements. TopTools forwards events to ManageX and reports key inventory and configuration information for firmware, agents, drivers, and system components.

TopTools Remote Control Card. The optional TopTools Remote Control Card lets you use your favorite Internet browser to access your server and power it up. The Remote Control Card provides a built-in, independent memory tester that runs intensive memory diagnostics without interfering with system operation. I didn't review the card because it wasn't available. (However, the card is currently available.) The Remote Control Card is a 32-bit PCI bus master card that comes with an external power adapter, so it works even when the server's power fails. The card has its own 10Base-T interface, serial port, and built-in Web server, so it provides a powerful remote-management alternative.

CA/Unicenter TNG Framework. Framework is a subset of the full Unicenter TNG that automatically discovers your network topology. The LH 3 comes with a trial version of Framework. (The server also comes with a copy of HP TopTools for Unicenter TNG so you can forward information and events originating in TopTools to Unicenter.)

System Performance
The LH 3 system is the first Pentium II system with dual 450MHz processors that I've tested in the Windows NT Magazine Lab. I ran several series of benchmark tests to measure its performance.

System performance depends heavily on system configuration and workload. The LH 3 I tested included 1GB of 100MHz ECC SDRAM, a Seagate Cheetah LVD/Ultra 2 SCSI disk drive as the boot device on the first SCSI channel, and five identical drives on the second SCSI channel. I configured the second SCSI channel as a RAID 0 volume using the LH 3's integrated hardware RAID controller. Four Intel-based HP 10/100 Ethernet adapters connected the system to the Lab's benchmark network.

First, I obtained AIM Technologies' Certified Domain Server Report. The LH 3's scores for the first tests I conducted fell short of the results AIM observed in systems of the same class. However, after I made a few changes to the RAID array configuration (i.e., I included RAID settings for Cached IO instead of Direct IO, and Writeback IO instead of Writethru, and I moved all five drives to the same SCSI controller), the LH 3's scores were in line with AIM's observations. The improved performance after I moved all five drives to the same SCSI controller surprised me: I always thought that spreading IO to multiple controllers provided the best results. In this case, however, the extra overhead of writing to two SCSI channels was a more significant factor than the extra bandwidth available with two channels. The LH 3 received a Peak Performance score of 3477.7 jobs per minute and a Sustained Performance score of 3359.5 jobs per minute. (For an overview of the AIM benchmark tests, see John Enck, "AIM Technology Server Benchmark Test" sidebar, "8-Way Scalability," September 1998, or visit AIM's Web site at HP wouldn't let Windows NT Magazine post the LH 3's test results on AIM's Web site. However, if you compare my results to those on AIM's Web site, you'll see that they're quite respectable. After doing some comparing on my own, I concluded that the scores reflect disk subsystem performance as much as they reflect processor and memory configuration performance.

I also tested the LH 3 with a 24MB data set size using the Bluecurve Dynameasure benchmark program's Special File Bidirectional Copy test. The LH 3 had the best data transfer throughput results I've seen in the Lab. Throughput consistently ranged from 11,400KBps to 11,600KBps. Processor utilization at full load averaged 48 percent, indicating no bottlenecks existed in this area. An average disk queue length of 1.5 IOs or less revealed that the RAID controller's write-back cache was keeping up with the IO load.

For such a compact unit, the LH 3 contains substantial disk storage space. The LH 3's systems-management features are on par with the best in the industry. The system's dual CPU performance is respectable, and I can't wait to install the quad Xeon upgrade. Stay tuned: You might be reading a Xeon review in a future issue.

NetServer LH 3
Contact: HP * 650-857-1501
Price: $18,595
System Configuration: Two 450MHz Pentium II Deschutes Slot 1 processors with 512KB cache, Windows NT Server 4.0 with Service Pack 3, 1GB of 100MHz Error-Correcting Code Synchronous DRAM, Six 9.1GB, 10,000rpm Seagate hard disks, 3.5" disk drive, CD-ROM drive, Four HP 10/100 Ethernet adapters