HardwareLenovo's SR850 Server Packs Four CPU Sockets in a 2U Box

Lenovo’s SR850 Server Packs Four CPU Sockets in a 2U Box

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Lenovo recently refreshed their server line and expanded the SR850 with the ability to now pack four Xeon CPUs into a 2U box. This system has the flexibility to cover a wide variety of server scenarios, including CPU-intensive operations.

We were shipped two identically configured SR850’s to use for evaluating Microsoft’s Storage Spaces Direct feature in Windows Server 2016. CPU options include Intel Xeon Gold or Platinum processors at a variety of speeds and cores.

Our test boxes came with Intel Xeon Platinum 8160 processors clocking at 2.10 GHz and sporting 24 cores. With a total of 96 cores, the SR850 can handle a huge number of virtual machines or just about any big data problem you could throw at it.

While our systems came equipped with 512 GB of memory, the SR850 can support up to 6 TB utilizing 3DS-RDIMM parts. Installed networking options included a single 1 GB network management port plus two 10GBASE-T ports.

On the storage front, the system offers two storage drive backplanes supporting eight 2.5-inch drives each. For our testing we were provided with four SSDs and four HDDs. The system can handle SATA, SAS and NVMe devices depending on your requirements.

Each drive bay is configured for a maximum of four NVMe drives should you choose that option. Our test SSDs were of the SATA variety so we did not test with any NVMe disks.

Hardware Setup Excellence

Lenovo has hit a home run with their system configuration utilities. The XClarity Provisioning Manager provides a wealth of configuration and diagnostic capabilities to get your system up and running. Lenovo provides a download for creating a USB boot device containing the XClarity Essentials utility.

This disk will update all firmware on your server and prepare it for installing the Windows Server operating system. The main xClarity Controller screen (see Figure 1) provides a dashboard that allows you to quickly survey the status of your system and perform operations like power cycles or launching the remote console.

The diagnostics dashboard (Figure 2) shows a summary of all components and any system problems using a red oval and yellow triangle with an exclamation point inside. An optional pull-out diagnostic LCD panel on the server lets you see the same basic information without needing to directly connect a monitor and keyboard. A cloning function allows you to export settings for UEFI, RAID, and BMC to an external storage device such as a USB disk to facilitate multiple server setup.

One nice touch to the Lenovo management experience is a fully functional HTML5-based remote console app. This definitely one-ups other server vendors that want to charge you extra for the ability to remotely connect to the server console.

The console app supports mounting either local or network files for remote software installation. You can accomplish the same function with a drag-and-drop method if you’re using the Google Chrome browser.

Up to four files can be concurrently mounted using CIFS, NFS, or HTTPFS (HTTP Fuse-based File System). You can record a session for later playback and take screen images as well.

Software Support

Lenovo offers support for a variety of operating systems on the SR850, including Windows Server 2008 R2 through the latest releases of Windows Server 2016, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, VMware ESXi up to the latest 6.7 release, and Citrix XenServer 7.1 through 7.5.

Lenovo has integrated a patented dual M.2 disk adapter that accommodates multiple sizes with a few simple changes. The adapter includes an integrated RAID controller so that two M.2 devices can be used for redundancy as a RAID-1 mirrored pair. Any of the supported operating systems can, in turn, be installed to the M.2 disk “array” for a fast boot device.

We tested the latest versions of Microsoft Windows Server 2019 and VMware ESXi 6.7 even though the Windows Server release isn’t officially supported at this point. Both operating systems loaded and functioned with no issues.

Figure 3 shows the ESXi management screen available in version 6.7 displaying the SR850 hardware. We’re planning to review the latest release of VSAN using this hardware in the coming months.

Lenovo offers a customized ESXi image for download with drivers to support all devices in the SR850. This ISO file makes it drop-dead simple to install VMware’s base virtualization in a matter of minutes. They maintain a repository of VMware images and updates should you need to install an older version.

Microsoft is continuously releasing new test versions of Windows Server 2019 through the Windows Insider program. For this review we tested Windows Server 2019 Build 17704.

Bottom Line

The Lenovo SR850 is a beast of a machine and comes with some of the best management software we’ve tested to date. With a built-in remote console feature that doesn’t cost extra, you’ll be able to get your system up and running in short order. New hardware innovations like the M.2 slot make this server a definite buy.

Paul Ferrill, based in Chelsea, Alabama, has been writing about computers and software for almost 20 years. He has programmed in more languages than he cares to count, but now leans toward Visual Basic and C#.

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