New HP Gen9 servers perfectly suited for SDS

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Published: Monday, 06 October 2014 20:20

HP lately announced availability for the new ProLiant Gen9 server series. There are many improvements to the Gen8 series but for me as a storage and virtualization guy Gen9 servers reach a new level of scalability and performance.

First, all Gen9 servers are only equipped with a low end Smart Array B140i. This SATA controller lets you build RAID0,1 and 5 sets for OS booting. Nothing more. As you can't add battery backed cache to this controller, RAID5 should be the last way to go.


A more powerful SmartArray controller can be added as you need and installed in the server without using one of the PCIe slots (flexible Smart Array form factor). Additionally you can now choose between HBAs and RAID controllers in the SmartArray family. RAID controllers can also be used in HBA mode. It seems HP wants to climb more and more on the bandwagon of SDS software that needs direct control over the harddisks which is impossible in RAID mode. For example Windows Storage Spaces need HBA mode to build scale out fileservers. Nexenta based on ZFS file system is another use case. Interestingly, HP still has nothing on the HCL for Windows storage spaces and Nexenta only supports the Gen8 server but no storage enclosure or controller. Probably HP wants to sell more StoreVirtual VSA licenses than giving MS or other another push by supporting their software.

One of the most deplorable decision HP made with Gen8 regarding internal storage was the discontinuance of the SAS expander card. This card is needed if you want to attach more than 8 internal harddisks to a SmartArray controller. HP only built some special server models with inbuilt expander card like the 25SFF model of the DL380 but you couldn't add this functionality later. With Gen9, the SAS Expander Card is back and is supported in DL380, DL180 and ML350 servers. Now you can use much more internal disks without having to buy additional RAID controllers.

Looking at the models, nothing really new except the return of the DL180. This model was replaced by the DL380e in Gen8 and G7. The DL180 isn't that scalable regarding CPU and RAM but you can put some decent amount of storage in the server making it a perfect model for SDS. By the way, the DL180 is much less expensive than the DL380 so always worth a look if you are small on budget.

The DL380 now offers 4x1GbE onboard PLUS a choice of FlexLOM, either 4x1GbE or 2x10GbE giving the system hughe amount of network bandwidth. The DL360 offers the same, the DL180 only 2x1GbE onboard plus a FlexLOM on the riser cage. The ML350 has 4x1GbE onboard and can be upgraded with NICs using the 9 PCIe slots.

Looking at the internal storage capacity, the DL180 offers up to 12 LFF or 16 SFF drives, the DL380 up to 26SFF (24 on the front side, 2 on the back) or 15LFF (12 front, 3 back, this option will consume the second riser board) and the ML350 raises the bar up to 24LFF or 48SFF. Combining the support for latest CPUs, up to 768GB of RAM, 9 PCIe slots and the internal storage capabilities makes this sserver my all time favorite system for SDS (until now :-) )

Looking at the SmartArray controllers, the latest series is the x4x series, eg. 440, 441, 840, equipped with up to 4GB of cache. By the way, the 840 is not a direct successor of the P822 as the 840 only supports internal drives. If you want to add external drives to the new x4x series, you have to use the 441 that supports up to 200 external drives. If HP follows the way they decided to go with the x2x series then the RoC is always the same and the different models only differ in the number of disks and if they are internal, external or both.

New to the x4x series is the commonly shared Smart Storage Battery that will replace the dedicated Supercaps per cache modul. Now one battery will support up to 16 cache modules.

Another cool feature is SmartCache. SmartCache uses SSDs directly attached to the SmartArray controller for read and, new to x4x series, write caching of data. It has to be licensed separately (except the 840 where the license is already included). This way you can increase performance without having the application running on top of the storage to have knowledge about it. SmartCache is 100% transparent to the application and OS.

Let's make a rollup and think about the perfect solution to built a storage server. In my opinion the best way to do so is using a ML350 Gen9, adding 48 SAS SFF harddisks (perhaps some SSDs?), use a 4GB SmartArray controller (or more, just as you wish), add some interface cards...... I like! Now add SmartCache on top and boost your storage performance beyond anything you have seen before on such a setup.

Consider using such a hardware setup with your favorite SDS software. In my case this would be DataCore SANsymphony-V or HPs StoreVirtual VSA. The combination of the new Gen9 servers with latest storage enhancements and SDS is getting more and more comparable to physical setups and as the VSA pendants are 100% compatible with their "physical counterparts", mixed environments are highly attractive.

The bottomline: the new Gen9 server hardware is one more step towards a perfect SDS platform. HP seems to have understand that they can one play an important part in the SDS game if they make their hardware more powerful and flexible with regard to storage. This is also emphasized as HP announced to deliver a free and unrestricted copy of a 1TB StoreVirtual VSA with every Gen9 server.

So don't wait any longer, grap one or more Gen9 servers and start into the SDS world.