Eye on Blades Blog: Trends in Infrastructure
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Displaying articles for: December 2009

Top 10 Server Technologies in 2010

Here's my count-down of the top technologies that will have the most impact on servers in 2010.

10. DDR3L - The JEDEC spec for low-voltage DDR-3 memory came out last year, but 2010 should mark significant adoption of these 1.35-volt DIMMs.  Since the memory in a  modern, high-memory server can consume more power than the processors, DDR3L will play a key role in helping solve data center power consumption and capacity problems.

9. Oracle Fusion Applications - Currently in beta testing, Oracle Fusion Apps is an evolutionary step in Oracle's piecing together of key technologies from its "standard" products with those it recently acquired, like PeopleSoft and Siebel.  In some cases, I expect we'll be learning (and managing) applications that are  effectively brand-new.

8.  Tukwila and Power7 - The UNIX-oriented mission-critical processors grow beyond dual-core, and get hefty caches shared between cores.  Intel expects to bring its Itanium into production in the first part of 2010, while published roadmaps from IBM also put Power7 in the 2010 timeframe.

7. RHEL6 - I haven't seen schedules from Red Hat showing RH Enterprise Linux futures, but based on their plan to move RHEL5 into "phase 2" of their lifecycle in early 2011 (that's basically the "no new features, just bug fixes" phase),  2010 would be the logical year for this virtualization-tuned generation of the OS.  Fedora 11 and 12 (now released) were the planned "feature previews" for RHEL6, so we'll see.

6.  SPEC virtualization benchmark - I'm making another guess at roadmaps to predict the SPEC Virtualization committee might reveal its plans for a benchmark in 2010.  (HP is a committee member, though I'm not personally involved in that; as always on this blog, I'm speaking for myself and not for HP.)  VMMark is a great tool, but the SPEC benchmark should boost our ability to do vendor-agnostic comparisons of virtualization systems.

5.  SAS SSDs - Solid state drives with a SATA interface have been available for a couple of years in servers.  (I think IBM was the first to use them as internal drives on blades.)  However, servers have traditionally relied on performance & reliability advantages that the SAS protocol brings, and so SAS SSDs are really going to help bring SSDs into everyday use inside servers.

4. Nehalem-EX - The benefits of an integrated memory controller and hyper-threading that emerged with the Intel Xeon 5000 processor will be available to servers with more than 2 processors.  Plus, with bigger cache and a beefier memory subsystem, performance will be impressive -- Intel says Nehalem-EX will bring the "largest performance leap in Xeon history".

3. CEE 'ratified' - Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE) is the final piece to enable a standardized Fibre-Channel over Ethernet (FCoE). This carries the possibility of effectively eliminating an entire fabric from data centers, so there's  much-anticipated cost savings and flexibility boosts. Actually, there is no single "CEE" standard; but the  key final pieces (the 802.1Qbb and 802.1az standards from IEEE) are targeted for final ratification around mid-2010.

2.  Win2003 Server End of Mainstream Support - There are really only two reasons to upgrade an OS: You want some new feature, or the old one can't be patched. For those who are relying on Windows 2003, the chance of the latter happening is about to get larger in 2010, so expect a lot more pressure to upgrade older systems to Server 2008.

1. Magny-Cours processor - Twelve-core x86 processors; enough said.  Actually, maybe not: AMD's next-gen Opteron has other performance-boosting features (like additional memory channels), and Magny-Cours will be available for 2-processor as well as 4+ processor servers at the same time.  What else?  I'm impressed with John Fruehe's comments about AMD's plans to enable 4P performance with 2P economics.   I predict Magny-Cours will be the big story in 2010.


Top-ten lists don't seem complete without honorable mentions, so here are my two:  Ratification of the PCI Express 3.0 spec, and Microsoft's Madison / Parallel Data Warehouse extension of its SQL server line.


And finally, one new product that almost, but thankfully didn't, appear on this list: The 0.0635 meter hard drive.  The EU's Metric Directive , which comes into effect in 2010, originally prohibited publishing specs in anything but metric units.  Among other things, that could have lead to a renaming of 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch hard drives.  Luckily, later modifications to the EU rules mean the "0.0636 meter drive" won't make its appearance -- at least in 2010.

Redundant ROMs far, far away

Situation: A glitch is causing unexpected system reboots. After much testing, you identify the problem.  A firmware patch should prevent it from recurring.   Luckily, you've already got the tools that will let you remotely "flash", or update, your firmware.


Complication: If your system glitches while you're remotely updating firmware, you won't be able to connect to it remotely anymore.  Oh...and your system is on another planet.


That's the firmware problem facing a NASA team right now.  The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has seen unexpected reboots, and engineers believe they've got a patch that could fix it.  However, they're worried that a mistake or unexpected reboot during the patch process might leave the satellite so confused it will stop transmitting its data.



ProLiant engineers have actually grappled with this very same problem, though a little closer to home.


Before I explain that, an aside: there's a cool connection between HP engineering and Mars spacecraft. Lossless compression technology developed by HP labs and used in HP's RGS software for workstations was used by NASA for transferring images from the Spirit Rover on Mars.


Here's two ways that ProLiant blades -- including the RGS-using ProLiant WS460c G6 workstation blade -- protect you from this "botched update" scenario:



1. Redundant ROMs - There are two ROM images stored on each blade.  One is a "primary" image, used to boot. The other is a "backup" image.  Here's a screenshot from RBSU showing the version numbers (dates, actually) of the primary and backup images on one blade.


 


When you flash a ROM, it actually overwrites the backup image, and then makes this image the new primary.  The original primary becomes the new backup. This hedges against both a new image being bad, and against the flash process failing to complete or corrupting the image.  (One reason a flash might fail: total loss of power during a flash.)


By the way, if both ROM images are valid, you can select which one you want to use at boot  time from RBSU.  Here's a short video showing that:



There's also a manual way described in the Maintenance and Server Guide to force a boot to the redundant image by setting some physical DIP switches inside the blade itself.


2. Bootblock - There's actually a third, non-flashable section of a ProLiant ROM.  This "boot block" section
includes a a disaster-recovery feature that lets the server flash a new ROM image, even if both of the existing ROM images are corrupted.


BIOS & firmware updates are often used to fix glitches, but HP (and presumably NASA) also add new features or enhancements too. We post release notes that describe all the fixes and enhancements added to each version.    Here's a recent one added to the BL460c G6.


For example, one enhancement in this latest version is a "boot override menu" (see screenshot below), displayed by hitting F11 during boot. It lets you specify a "one time" override of the RBSU boot order, so you can boot to some other device.  After booting that one time, the system will fall back to its original boot order settings.


 

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  • More than 25 years in the IT industry developing and managing marketing programs. Focused in emerging technologies like Virtualization, cloud and big data.
  • I work within EMEA HP Servers Central Team as a launch manager for new products and general communications manager for EMEA HP Server specific information. I also tweet @ServerSavvyElla
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  • Global Marketing Manager with 15 years experience in the high-tech industry.
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