NEC Express5800 120Ri-2 review
NEC’s latest 2U rack server targets businesses with storage capacity and performance high on the agenda. The Express5800 120Ri-2 brings together a fine combination of quad-core Xeon processors and six hot-swap drive bays, with the focus on high-capacity 3.5in SAS hard disks. As we’ve seen in HP’s ProLiant DL380 G5, the use of 2.5in small-form-factor (SFF) hard disks means you can fit more into a smaller space and reduce power consumption. However, storage can be a casualty, since the top capacity for an SFF drive is currently 146GB.
The system on review came with a trio of 300GB Seagate Cheetah drives for nearly 1TB of raw storage, and you still get three more bays for future expansion. Furthermore, these latest 15K.5 models are ideally suited to high-demand applications such as data streaming and analysis, databases, virtualisation and HPC. NEC sources the majority of its rack-server solutions from MSI, and this server comprises that company’s X2-203S6R, which is a well-designed system.
Along with the six disk bays, the front panel sports a Sony StorStation AIT-3Ex SCSI tape drive. It delivered a top backup speed of 21.6MB/sec in our performance tests – slightly higher than the quoted native transfer rate of 18MB/sec – and the compact 8mm tapes should be able to handle the demands of this server. Their native capacity is 150GB.
The high heat output of the Seagate drives means internal cooling has to be particularly efficient. The front panel is peppered with air grilles and slots. Airflow is handled by eight hot-swap fans, and overall noise levels aren’t intrusive.
The motherboard sports an embedded LSI Logic SAS1068 controller, but NEC instead uses an LSI SAS8408E PCI-E RAID controller. Initially, this looks a strange choice since it, too, uses a SAS1068 controller chip, but it also comes with a battery backup cache module – something the motherboard can’t offer. NEC has also upgraded the card to support dual-redundant RAID6 arrays. One of the PCI-X slots is occupied, since NEC has added a single-channel Adaptec SCSI card to service the tape drive. Cabling has been kept tidy, with both the hard disk and tape drive cables routed carefully through the chassis.
Along with a pair of quad-core Xeons, there’s 6GB of FB-DIMM memory. The 120Ri-2 offers good memory expansion, as its 12 DIMM sockets allow it to handle up to 48GB. The processors have large passive heatsinks attached to them, while the memory modules get a plastic shroud. Access to any of these components requires the bracing bar above them to be unscrewed and removed first, but the two-section lid is simple enough to remove. Expansion options are good: even though the large butterfly riser has two positions occupied, it still has a PCI-X and three PCI-E slots free.
Server management is one area where NEC lags behind the likes of IBM and HP, with the bundled ExpressScope suite offering a comparatively modest range of features. The ESMPRO utility provides remote access and starts off with a discovery routine that scans the network and lists all SNMP devices. Once you’ve installed a local ESMPRO agent, any NEC server can be queried directly from the map for hardware inventory and performance graphs of selected components. Remote web access is also supported, and this provides operational details, inventory and access to the ESMPRO event viewer.
The server has an embedded IPMI chip, which can be accessed using the bundled DianaScope utility. It offers a web interface, which – although somewhat basic – does allow you to monitor server activity, remotely control it using the VNC software, shut down or restart the operating system and schedule power cycles. However, it’s tricky to set up, and the level of features doesn’t even come close to those offered by HP’s iLO2 management controller.