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Howard Marks
Howard Marks
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Supermicro Deserves Some Respect

I’ve long thought that Supermicro was the Rodney Dangerfield of server vendors. After years of delivering solid, if not especially exciting, servers, the company still don’t get no respect from most customers, who'd rather buy their servers from HP, IBM or Dell. Supermicro may be worth a second look, as their products have evolved from generic, one- and two-processor tower and rack-mount servers, and may be just the cost-effective solution to one or more of your server problems.

I’ve long thought that Super Micro Computer, or Supermicro, was the Rodney Dangerfield of server vendors. After years of delivering solid, if not especially exciting, servers, the company still don’t get no respect from most customers, who'd rather buy their servers from HP, IBM or Dell. Supermicro may be worth a second look, as its products have evolved from generic, one- and two-processor tower and rack-mount servers, and may be just the cost-effective solution to one or more of your server problems.

OEMs have long relied on Supermicro servers to house their software. Many of the spam filters, virtual tape libraries and iSCSI arrays that have come through the NetworkComputing Real World/DeepStorage Lab over the years have been based on Supermicro hardware. Smart appliance vendors look to minimize their warranty service costs, so I count long-term success in the OEM market as a sign of hardware reliability.

For the past few years, Supermicro has been the go-to player for when the standard 1U and 2U packages just don’t fit the need. Need high server density while retaining the I/O flexibility of standard PCIe slots? The twin series doubles server density by putting two servers, with the usual set of memory and PCIe slots, in a 1U or 2U chassis. The company can even stick four dual Nehalems, each with one PCIe slot, or eight Atom servers in a 2U chassis. The MicroCloud squeezes eight single-processor Xeon servers in a 3U space. The chassis provides drive slots and power without the management or I/O in a typical blade chassis.

Want to build a high-density storage server with Openfiler, NexentaStor or the like? Supermicro has a server chassis that loads drives in from the front and the back holding up to 45 LFF 3.5-inch drives or 88 SFF 2.5-inch drives.

If your software supports clustering, the company's dual server SBB (Storage Bridge Bay) system puts two dual Nehalem servers in a 3U cabinet with two 10-Gbps Ethernet links between them and 16 SAS or SATA drives over a shared backplane. Look closely at most second-tier vendors' dual controller systems, and you’ll see an SBB system.

Until I spoke with Supermicro, I thought of the company as innovating primarily in mechanical engineering while taking the Intel or AMD chip set and assembling pretty standard motherboards. As we walked thought the product line, I started noticing systems designed for GPU computing with multiple Nvidia Tesla GPUs and, most impressively, an eight-way Xeon 7500 system that can take 2 Tbytesof RAM. That’s a bigger server than you’ll find in the Dell product line, and there is no Intel reference design.

Howard Marks is founder and chief scientist at Deepstorage LLC, a storage consultancy and independent test lab based in Santa Fe, N.M. and concentrating on storage and data center networking. In more than 25 years of consulting, Marks has designed and implemented storage ... View Full Bio
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