IBM System p5 510Q Express server stands up strong

Entry-level box offers performance, manageability, optional virtualization

The IBM System p5 510Q Express is the company's newest entry-level p-system series server. But don't let the entry-level tag turn you off, because this server -- which runs IBM's Unix-based AIX or a variety of Linux operating systems -- is an impressive bundle of performance and manageability.

The server we tested was loaded with four 64-bit 1.5GHz IBM Power5+ processors, 8GB of RAM and three 150GB hard drives. The motherboard had two copper 1Gbps Ethernet ports. There were two hot-swappable, load-balancing, redundant power supplies.

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In our CPU performance tests we saw nearly 600 transactions per second; this is similar to results we found with an Intel-based server with almost twice the processor clock speed. CPU performance with AIX was slightly lower than that of Red Hat Enterprise Linux on average, when all data points of the five-minute test were taken into account.



Price:Starts at $5,550.
Pros:Great performance; strong management tools; interesting virtualization feature.
Cons:No hot-swappable components inside the chassis; the operator panel is difficult to use.
The breakdown
Performance 40%4.5Scoring Key: 5: Exceptional4: Very good3: Average2: Below average1: Subpar or not available
Serviceability 30%4

Management 20%

Documentation 10%4

But AIX was more stable with its performance over time, as the Red Hat performance numbers showed a higher variability and sometimes a declining trend. With all the differences between the software components making up the two operating systems, it is difficult to determine the cause for the difference.

Our network interface card (NIC) and network stack tests show similar impressive performance results. The NICs can support more than 96% of full line rate, which is as good as we have seen with this test. The TCP stack test shows that the IBM System p5 510Q Express can create and tear down more than 5,000 connections per second. Similar to the CPU tests, the TCP stack tests showed AIX performing slightly lower than Linux, but with less variance.

The server is housed in a rack-mountable, two-rack-unit case. The internals of the server are laid out very neatly with easy access to all components and no loose wires, which could get caught in any of the removable parts. The hot-swappable system fans are accessible from the front panel. Except for the power supplies, hard drives and system fans, there are no other parts that can be serviced inside the chassis with the power on.

To aid in troubleshooting the system, the front panel of the server has an operator panel that houses warning LEDs and an LCD panel that displays operation codes. Unfortunately, the codes are cryptic, and the panel is not intuitive. This could lead to confusion when the pressure is on to resolve a problem.

The IBM System p5 510Q Express can be managed as a stand-alone unit, because it comes with built-in system-management tool, or it can be managed along with many other IBM servers through a hardware management console (HMC) that runs on a separate machine. The HMC physically connects to the IBM System p5 510Q Express via an Ethernet cable to a special port on the back of the server. The GUI has a Windows Explorer-type interface in which the administrator can select the server, attribute, value or feature that needs to be managed. Using the HMC, we were able to power on/off, and troubleshoot and configure the logical partitions without a problem.

As a standard feature, the IBM System p5 510Q Express can create one virtual partition per processor. This is useful if you'd like to have one server act like two independent servers within each processor. With the optional power-virtualization feature, it is possible to create a micro partition with 1/10th of one processor. This partition can be increased by as little as 1/100th of a processor. If there is available capacity in the server, this increase can be applied without a reboot.

The IBM System p5 510Q Express is supported by a wealth of IBM documentation ranging from user manuals to IBM technology Redbooks, white papers that go in depth on the technologies that comprise the server. We found mostly everything we needed, but it took a great deal of time to work our way through the documentation for technical issues, such as CPU virtualization.

Our tests show that IBM System p5 510Q Express would be a good choice for any small application or database server. The management features give the server the ability to scale to large numbers within an enterprise network. The optional virtualization features would give an enterprise the ability to consolidate applications into fewer pieces of server hardware without worrying about many types of software running on the same operating system with unexpected interactions.

Bass is technical director of Centennial Networking Lab (CNL) and Centaur Lab at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C. He can be reached at Jaime Zabala assisted with the testing.

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