Boston Fenway AVX21608T review

Price when reviewed

Virtualisation is going to be a hot topic this year, as mid-sized businesses and enterprises look to get more from their server hardware. Supermicro distributor Boston hasn’t missed this trend, and its latest Fenway AVX21608T has been specifically designed to cater for these demands. Not only does it sport a fine specification based around AMD’s new quad-core Opteron MP processors, but it also comes complete with XenServer preinstalled. The version supplied in this package is Citrix XenServer Enterprise Edition 4.0.1.

Boston Fenway AVX21608T review

First to the hardware, and this virtualisation solution is presented as an all-Supermicro platform comprising its 2U rack-mount chassis and H8QM3-2 motherboard. There’s plenty of storage, as the price includes a quartet of 146GB Seagate Cheetah high-performance SAS hard disks mounted in hot-swap carriers. With a system capable of running a large number of virtual machines, general fault tolerance needs to be good, and the Fenway is equipped with an LSI MegaRAID SAS 8888ELP RAID card kitted out with 256MB of DDR2 cache memory and the optional battery backup pack. Power doesn’t miss out, since the system has twin 1,200W hot-plug supplies fitted.

Internally everything looks neat, but it has a flimsy plastic cooling shroud placed over the processors. Nevertheless, this covers four 1.9GHz AMD Opteron 8347 processors, each partnered by chunky passive heatsinks and arranged in two staggered groups to avoid the airflow for the rear pair being blocked. Each processor socket is accompanied by eight DIMM sockets, and Boston has pushed the boat out here since all are occupied by 1GB DDR2 modules. The network port count has been doubled, with one of the PCI slots occupied by an extra dual-port gigabit ethernet card.

Remote management and monitoring are key for systems running multiple VMs, and the Fenway sports a Supermicro AOC-SIM1U+ card. This is IPMI 2-compliant, has a Raritan chip for KVM over IP, and provides a header backplate offering a dedicated 10/100 ethernet management port. The bundled IPMI View utility has a dashboard for temperatures, fan speeds and voltages, plus controls for recycling power and server shutdowns. Secure browser access is supported and has an interface for monitoring the server, controlling power and providing timely alerts. You can also get server remote-control tools.

AMD has made a big deal about the Opteron’s cool runnings, and this makes its presence felt in the noise department. The Fenway’s fans have been turned down, resulting in a quieter system. Reduced power consumption is another of AMD’s sweet spots and, with our in-line meter, we saw the Fenway pulling 390W in idle, peaking at 500W when we fired up five VMs running Windows Server 2003 R2. The Opteron processors are the 75W variety and were on a par with the quartet of 50W low-power L7345 Xeon MPs in the Transtec 4200. This consumed 347W in idle and 470W under a heavy processing load.

The XenServer software was supplied ready to go, and remote management is via the bundled XenCenter Windows application. You connect to the server via its management IP address, where it appears in the left pane. You can select individual VMs and start, stop, reboot or shut them down. The pane alongside provides access to the VMs, with an overview of used and available resources, options to change the number of virtual processors and memory, plus processor priority. A wizard makes light work of VM creation, and we had a Server 2003 R2 VM up and running inside an hour. You decide how many virtual processors it can have along with virtual memory and storage, add virtual network interfaces and install the OS. You can also create multiple storage repositories.

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