It's no secret that servers are the brains of the data center--server technology has begun to approach commodity status, however, with value overriding other critical factors during the selection process. This raises a question: Should you stick with a name-brand server, or look for an alternative platform?
If it's the latter, Super Micro Computer may have your answer with its SuperServer product line. The company, which has its roots in the white-box and OEM hardware vendor markets, is looking to move servers back up the respect scale with its latest offering, the SuperServer 6027R-3RF4+, a data center server with exciting features and a really boring name.
I recently received a bare-bones version of the 6027R-3RF4+ for testing and put it through its paces. The 2U server, which retails for $1,310, comes as a stripped-down white-box system with little more than a 2U case and a Super Micro motherboard. However, in tests it was pretty easy to configure and to add the necessary components to turn it into a functioning server. What's more, you can get the server in any color you want (as long as it's black).
Ideally, you would purchase the system pre-configured from a Super Micro reseller, allowing you to specify what processors, storage and how much RAM should be installed into the system--all of which is dictated by the intended use of the server.
Out of the box, the SuperServer offers several features that make it a good fit for the typical data center. The unit includes mounting rails, as well as an easily accessible case where a "hood" ideology is used to gain access to the guts of the server. The hood slides off with the press of two buttons, while the internal layout of the machine makes it a snap to install processors and RAM, and to service other components, such as fans and power supplies. What's more, the system offers a high level of redundancy, with dual power supplies, easily replaced cooling fans and eight hot-swappable drive trays.
I installed a pair of Xeon E5-2650 Sandy Bridge processors, as well as 16 Gbytes of DDR3 of system RAM and five Seagate Savvio ST9300603SS hard drives (300 Gbytes, SAS2) into the unit. During installation of the components, I noticed how well constructed the case was--made from heavy steel, it didn't flex. Everything was easy to get at, making hardware installation straightforward. However, the included documentation left much to be desired, covering only the basics and not offering much in the form of configuration options. With Super Micro, it's obvious that assembling a server is best left to a hands-on professional and not a junior tech assembling his or her first PC.
For my tests, I configured the system for RAID 6, which offers a high level of data protection and a low performance impact for redundancy. Speaking of performance, I measured the system's operations with PassMark Performance Test 7.0, a common performance testing tool.
Although performance is an important metric, there are several variables that can affect real-world performance versus simulated testing. It's always important to consider the intended uses of a device being tested and then determine if the synthetic performance testing offers measurable value. IT managers vetting servers should remember that components used--as well as operating systems, infrastructure options and so forth--can affect performance. Arguably, the most basic performance elements to look at are CPU performance and throughput capabilities, at least to determine the performance potential of any given system. The measurements still hold value, especially when a server will be virtualized or used as a host for VDI or virtual appliances.
Testing with PassMark determined that the SuperServer using Xeon Processors delivered 13213 on the CPU Mark Scale, which is pretty speedy--especially when compared with a previous-generation Intel Xeon E3-1275, which could muster a CPUMark of only 8705. Also, the PassMark test returned a Disk Rating Score of 2417, which proves respectable when compared with other disk drive subsystems. For example, a Windows 7 x64 system with an Intel SSD drive scored a 2666, meaning the RAID-enabled drives on the Super Micro SuperServer offer near SSD speeds.
Other factors that affect overall performance include network I/O, which proves critical on busy networks yet is difficult to simulate effectively. Super Micro has equipped the SuperServer with four Gigabit Ethernet ports, allowing the server to be segmented across multiple networks and fitting well into a virtualization strategy or, at the very least, giving the server multiple I/O paths for failover, bridging, consolidation or other capabilities. The unit also sports a dedicated IPMI RJ45 port.
Integrated management, provided by Intel (Intelligent Platform Management Interface v2.0), rounds out the SuperServer, making it a good fit for the heterogeneous data center, where names are less important than value. However, if you're in a single-vendor shop and value the support, services and relationships with a Tier 1 vendor, the SuperServer may not be the best choice. Before making the leap to the second tier, it's probably best to review the current service contracts and warranties. Super Micro does offer a one-year warranty and extensions, as well as service contracts available via authorized resellers. Frank J. Ohlhorst is an award winning technology journalist, professional speaker, and IT business consultant with more than 25 years of experience in the technology arena. View Full Bio