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IBM System x3550 M4 review


IBM's x3550 M4 isn't great value, but this well-designed 1U rack server offers plenty of features and is easy to upgrade, too

Review Date: 16 Jan 2013

Reviewed By: Dave Mitchell

Price when reviewed: £5,059 (£6,071 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
4 stars out of 6

Value for Money
4 stars out of 6

5 stars out of 6

Servers in the 1U dual-socket rack unit space have their work cut out toppling our A-List incumbent. HP’s ProLiant DL360p Gen8 offers a killer combination of top design, excellent upgradability and great value for money, and it will take a great product to dislodge it.

IBM’s x3550 M4 is the latest to take on the challenge, and along with support for Intel’s E5-2600 Xeons, it continues IBM’s pay-as-you-grow philosophy, allowing businesses to start small and expand only when demand dictates. The standard models all ship with four SFF SAS/SATA hot-swap bays, which can be upgraded to eight bays.

This is achieved with a kit comprising a backplane for the four extra bays, to which you must add an IBM ServeRAID M1115 or M5110 controller for the four extra SAS ports. The latter goes into the dedicated PCI Express slot behind the DIMM sockets. Other drive options include three hot-swap LFF drives and a cheaper cold-swap LFF version available as a configure-to-order (CTO) model.

IBM System x3550 M4

RAID cache options are extensive, with IBM offering standard battery backed-up memory and a choice of 512MB or 1GB flash-backed write cache modules. The review system includes the 512MB module, which brings support for RAID5 as well as mirrors and stripes.

Cooling is handled by six fans between the drive backplanes and motherboard. These are hot-swappable, but we found the protruding power connector tab on each one made them a little tricky to remove and replace. However, the server is very quiet: IBM uses a similar method to Fujitsu’s Cool Safe where round holes in the chassis are replaced by a honeycomb. This allows the holes to be more densely packed, thereby reducing turbulence and noise.

The price of the review system includes a pair of 2.5GHz E5-2640 Xeon CPUs, the fastest of Intel’s standard Xeon E5 family. They’re six-core modules with a 15MB L3 cache, a 7.2GT/sec QPI, and offer Hyper-Threading and Turbo Boost. The server supports 1,333MHz memory in the shape of either 64MB of UDIMMs, 384GB of RDIMMs or 768GB of LR-DIMMs. There are 24 DIMM slots flanking the two CPU sockets.

IBM provided the review system with a single 550W hotplug supply), to which a second can be added for around £160. For higher power systems you can opt for meatier 750W supplies, although this isn’t as impressive as HP’s upgrade options; its DL360p Gen8 supports up to 1,200W power supplies. For the review system, power consumption is in line with similar rack systems with an idle draw of 95W and a peak of 228W.

IBM System x3550 M4

For virtualisation duties, Dell’s PowerEdge R620 is our top choice since it has dual internal SD card slots for hypervisor redundancy. IBM provides only an internal USB socket and lags behind the competition in terms of server deployment, too. You still have to boot its servers with the ServerGuide DVD before installing an OS onto them – a process rivals did away with some time ago.

When it comes to remote management, it’s another win for HP. Although IBM’s new IMM2 sees big improvements, it isn’t as sophisticated as HP’s class-leading iLO4. The IMM2 Basic module supplied with the review system doesn’t support web browser access or KVM-over-IP remote control, and to get these requires the Advanced upgrade costing £180.

IMM2 doesn’t have integral power metering, either, but it can pass this information on to the Active Energy Manager plugin. This allows IT managers to apply power capping and view trend graphs of consumption and system temperatures.

IBM’s Systems Director provides general systems management, and it’s easier to deploy than HP’s Insight Control software. It can manage all SNMP-capable devices and offers plenty of tools including network discovery, software deployment, inventory and file transfer.

There’s a wide range of network options. The x3550 M4 has four embedded Gigabit ports and an extra one for an Emulex dual-port 10GbE mezzanine card, which is better than the HP DL360p Gen8’s single connector that supports HP’s FlexLOM quad-Gigabit or dual-10GbE cards.

The x3550 M4 will appeal to businesses that want a compact and powerful rack server that has room to grow. It’s well designed and built, but HP’s ProLiant DL360p Gen8 offers superior remote management and storage features at a lower price, which keeps it on top of our A-List.

Author: Dave Mitchell

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