Ready To Rumble
IBM's System x3650 is impressive in both performance and price.
1: Virtually inoperable or nonexistent
5: Average, performs adequately
For the thrifty at heart, there are few things in life better than finding
a bargain. When I first started looking at the IBM System x3650, my first shock
came from -- of all things -- the price.
In the past, I was accustomed to seeing IBM products priced higher than those
of their competition. This was usually backed by the tried-and-true cliche,
"you get what you pay for." The IBM with which I'm most familiar has
long had a tradition of quality products with high-end prices.
With these expectations, I compared the price of the x3650 against the prices
of similar models from IBM's competitors, HP and Dell Inc. Much to my surprise,
the x3650 was more affordable than comparable Dell and HP 2U servers. The IBM
model also offers up to 48GB of RAM, while similar HP and Dell servers maxed
out at 32GB.
This seeming change in IBM's strategy made me wonder if the IBM brain trust
was receiving advice from Rocky Balboa, who once stated: "If I can change
and you can change, everybody can change." While Sylvester Stallone may
not be serving on IBM's board of directors, it's fair to say that the winds
of change are blowing strong at IBM.
The x3650 is a 2U server with a starting price of around $2,100. It offers
the following features:
- Support for up to two quad-core Intel Xeon CPUs
- 12 DIMM slots with support for up to 48GB of RAM
- Up to eight Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) hot swappable drives
- Hot swappable redundant cooling and power
- Four PCI Express slots
- Onboard SAS RAID controller (supports RAID 0, 1, 10 with optional RAID
5 or 6 upgrade)
- Onboard dual gigabit Ethernet card
This server is very well-crafted, with all of its 2U space maximized. The flexibility
of the expansion slots, which support four PCI Express cards or two PCI Express
and two PCI-X slots, was also impressive.
Many of the server deployments with which I'm involved support server virtualization.
In these deployments, storage and network I/O are the most critical. So, when
configured with two dual-channel fiber channel host bus adapters and two dual-channel
GB NICs, you can have a total of four fiber channel ports and 6GB network ports
(including the two onboard ports).
The server can accommodate up to eight 2.5-inch SAS drives or up to six 3.5
SAS drives, which offer a maximum internal storage of 1.8TB (SAS) or 3TB (SATA).
The base unit includes a single power supply with five cooling fans. For redundancy,
you can add a second power supply, along with an additional five fans. This
will give you redundant power and cooling.
One of the unsung features of this unit is its Calibrated Vectored Cooling
(CVC). With CVC, the speed of each cooling fan will run anywhere from 4,250
RPMs to 8,000 RPMs. The speed of the fan will increase as the temperature in
the fan's associated server zone increases. It decreases as the zone temperature
falls. By allowing fans to run at a variable rate, the system noise and power
consumption are both reduced.
Knock Out Failures
Let's face it -- hardware always seems to fail at the least opportune times.
Isolating a faulty component like a bad stick of DRAM can sometimes be a process
of trial and error. With the Light Path Diagnostics feature of the x3650, troubleshooting
is greatly simplified. The Light Path Diagnostics card displays an error LED
when a failure occurs. You can then push a button to extend the card from the
chassis to view additional LEDs. This lets you identify the part causing the
Suppose that the error is caused by a faulty dual in-line memory module (DIMM).
With Light Path Diagnostics, each individual DIMM has its own error LED. So
isolating a faulty DIMM is as easy as checking which LED doesn't look like the
others. That's something even Rocky can do.
When combined with IBM's Director Management tool, Light Path Diagnostics can
alert you of failures once they occur. Another nice feature that you can also
integrate with Director is IBM's Predictive Failure Analysis (PFA). PFA monitors
resources while tracking repeated errors (such as disk I/O) errors. Once a series
of errors surpasses a predetermined threshold, the system will generate an alert.
This helps you spot a failing device before it actually fails, and thus take
preemptive action to prevent unscheduled downtime.
The x3650 literally took everything that I could throw at it without missing
a beat. With its very reasonable entry-level price, this server would be a nice
fit for medium-sized and growing organizations. With its low profile and excellent
expansion options, this server is also a nice fit in data center environments.
While I would always like more features, I realize that there are physical
limitations of a 2U chassis, and IBM has done a nice job shoehorning as many
high-performing devices and expansion slots into the server chassis as possible.
With excellent performance and configuration options, intelligent power management
and aggressive pricing, the IBM x3650 is definitely worth a look. With or without
the help of Rocky, it's clear that IBM is trying to once again reign over the
Chris Wolf is VMware's CTO, Global Field and Industry.