Review: Next-gen HP ProLiant pumps up the jam

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HP's DL380p Gen8 dances through virtualization workloads and server administration with compelling mix of speed and ease

Review: Next-gen HP ProLiant pumps up the jam

Unlike most movie sequels, the HP ProLiant DL380 gets better with each generation. The DL dynasty just hit generation 8, and true to form, the HP ProLiant DL380p Gen8 does a fine job of incorporating all the latest server hardware, features, and doodads, with special emphasis on CPU clout, storage performance, and systems management.

HP designed the DL380p Gen8 with many of the same market and performance goals as the Dell PowerEdge 720xd (click for the review); both share the same form factor, drive density, and Intel's Sandy Bridge CPU architecture. The DL380 is also a noticeable upgrade from the DL380's Gen7 iteration. For one, it runs on dual Xeon E5-2600s instead of the Gen7's dual Xeon 5600s, which means it can run a maximum of eight cores per socket versus the Gen7's six cores -- with more compute punch in each core. The Gen8 not only supports 768GB of RAM vs. the Gen7's maximum of 348GB, but it can also handle a wider variety of RAM types. Finally, HP has spent considerable effort increasing the storage performance of its servers. While the Gen8 uses the same Smart Array P420i storage controller as the Gen7, the Gen8 still supports a wider variety of drive types, along with greater density.

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My test unit didn't come max-equipped but still had plenty of oomph, with dual E5-2690 CPUs, four 600GB 10K SAS drives, and 128GB of RAM. The system arrived with a FlexLOM NIC that carried dual 10Gb interfaces (which my paltry switch fabric doesn't support), but HP also included an optional four-port gigabit Ethernet card. Swapping one for the other was a 1-minute tool-less process that worked like a charm.

The HP ProLiant DL380p packs one or two eight-core Intel Xeon E5-2600 Sandy Bridge CPUs, up to 768GB of RAM, and as much as 25TB of internal storage.
The HP ProLiant DL380p packs one or two eight-core Intel Xeon E5-2600 Sandy Bridge CPUs, up to 768GB of RAM, and as much as 25TB of internal storage.

HP hasn't just wired together a big pile of powerful components and slapped a case around them, either. The ProLiant DL380p is carefully engineered to make optimal use of all its hardware muscle as evidenced by publicly published benchmark results using VMware's VMmark 2.1.1 benchmark test. In case that one's new to you, VMmark runs multiple workloads across several virtual machines simultaneously. Workloads and VMs are configured via templates and grouped as "tiles," which form the basis for bench results. Using the two-processor version of VMmark running VMware ESXi 4.1.2, the ProLiant DL380p managed 11.05 at 10 tiles, somewhat higher than the Dell PowerEdge 720xd's 10.49 score at the same 10-tile count. You can see these results for yourself and read a deeper description on interpreting VMmark results at VMware's VMmark site.

HP attributes several factors to these benchmark results. RAM performance is improved not just because of support for a wider variety of RAM chips, but also because of new smart memory algorithms that supposedly eliminate some common memory errors. Also, HP claims up to a sevenfold storage performance boost with its new Dynamic Workload Acceleration design, which is supposed to improve data-intensive storage speed through optimized use of HP's solid-state drive technologies. The use of PCIe-3 for its storage controller doesn't hurt either.

Lights-out management
Just as with the Dell 720xd, some of the ProLiant DL380p Gen8's slickest engineering is in its management capabilities. HP's iLO 4 management processor uses tools including HP Agentless Management and the Active Health System to remotely handle a number of tasks that would normally require a physical visit to the server box. For example, you can use iLO to power cycle the server, install a new operating system, interface with perform ROM and BIOS updates, and even mount an ISO image and boot from it. The DL380p also has a new pre-boot information display that provides early system status info in case you're willing brave the server's startup noise. Wear earplugs, it'll help.

The Active Health System is a new tool for HP ProLiant customers. It's similar to one of those rabid sports fans who soaks up statistics like Rain Man and spews them out ad nauseum with little or no provocation. Active Health logs all diagnostic, alert, and configuration information for your server from the moment it's powered up. It can then pour that data onto the screen of an HP services technician, probably overwhelming him, her, or it, but providing all the information required for "rapid problem resolution."

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