Businesses shopping for rack servers have fewer vendors to choose from than in years past, as market consolidation and acquisitions have left a rack server industry dominated by the few.
The top three providers remain Dell EMC, HPE, and IBM, accounting for almost 43% of the server vendor market, according to Gartner. Vendors competing for a seat at the table include Lenovo, Huawei, and Inspur, while Cisco, Fujitsu, and Oracle continue to produce unique, high-performance machines. We look at the top rack servers available today, whether you need a general-purpose server or one for data-intensive applications, followed by an overview of the rack server market and what buyers should look for in a rack server.
Top Rack Servers
Cisco UCS C240 M6
The newest addition to the Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) C-Series servers is the 3rd Gen AMD EPYC processor. The Cisco C240 M6 includes 32 DIMM slots, 8TB of capacity, RAID control, and an internal dual M.2 drive option.
The C240 M6 is a two-socket, 2RU form factor and goes further than its predecessor in offering high-performance computing. This upgrade includes additional ranges of DDR4 DIMMs capacity, eight PCIe 4.0 slots, 28 storage interface slots, up to 960GB for M.2 boot options, and support for up to five GPUs. It’s worth noting that the fourth and most recent generation of PCI express is twice as fast as PCIe 3.0, with a data rate of 16 GT/s.
This server is fit for an array of tasks including storage, I/O intensive applications, and high-performance computing. For small organizations, consider the C225. For anything more, your best bet will be the C240 M6.
Read our in-depth guide to its predecessor Cisco UCS C240 M5
Dell EMC PowerEdge R750
The Dell EMC PowerEdge R750 sits atop the suite of Dell EMC PowerEdge rack servers, offering up to 24 NVMe drives and eight PCIe 4.0 slots for throughput. Specs include two 3rd Gen Intel Xeon Scalable Processors that total 80 processors. For memory, the PowerEdge R750 carries 32 DIMM slots, up to 8TB of capacity, and can take six different disk types.
Designed to manage demanding workloads ranging from database analytics to AI, virtualization, and machine learning, the PowerEdge R750 provides excellent performance for a general-purpose server. According to Dell EMC, this server is “the optimal rack server to address application performance and acceleration.”
Read our in-depth guide to the predecessor Dell EMC PowerEdge R7425
Fujitsu PRIMERGY RX4770 M5
With long-time partner Sun Microsystems, Fujitsu continues to make moves in the server market, including unveiling Solaris-compatible UltraSparc chips in September 2020. For now, Fujitsu’s PRIMERGY server lineup offers the latest generation of Intel Xeon processors.
The Fujitsu PRIMERGY RX4770 M6 is a 2U, quad-socket server using 3rd Gen Intel Xeon processors. Providing 28 cores per socket and 12 DIMM slots per CPU, this server can hold up to 15 TB in memory. The RX4770 is flexible, with twelve operating systems to choose from and a 3-year warranty. Storage disk allotments include 16 general slots for up to 6 NVMe adapters and 8 PCIe 3.0 slots. Solaris as an operating system continues to gain steam as the only enterprise-class Unix system available for x86.
Organizations seeking a scalable and expandable server solution won’t be disappointed in the Fujitsu RX4770.
HPE Proliant DL380 Gen10
The HPE Proliant DL380 has long been a popular server in the market, offering reliability, performance, and a wealth of features for a reasonable cost. In its newest iteration, the DL380 Gen10 continues to meet SMB needs with better processors, more memory, NVMe ports, and more robust networking. Notable improvements include the addition of two 2nd Gen Intel Xeon Scalable processors that upped performance by 60% and 27% in cores.
The 2U rack server functions well for databases, analytics, and mission-critical applications, but loses out to some more expensive models on high-end features. That said it comes with enough reliability, serviceability, availability, GPU options, and Windows Server support to make it a good choice for general-purpose servers in the enterprise.
Read our in-depth guide to the HPE Proliant DL380
Huawei FusionServer Pro 2288H V5
Established in 1987, China-based tech giant Huawei has experienced accelerating growth over the years, including a sturdy position in the rack server market. The FusionServer Pro 2288H V5 is a flexible, 2U, 2-socket server that’s suited for an array of workloads. From big data processing to databases and cloud computing, this server is suited to contemporary tasks and cuts power consumption up to 15% without a change in performance.
Where the FusionServer Pro 2288H V5 truly stands out is its availability to NVM express drives. Tied with Cisco C240, both servers offer up to 28 NVMe drives. With 12 Intel Optane persistent memory modules, the 2288H V5 can achieve up to 7.5 TB in-memory capacity and offers 10 PCIe 3.0 slots.
IBM Power System S922
The IBM Power System S922 is quite different from almost all the other racks in this guide in that it is one of two without an x86 processor from AMD or Intel. The IBM homegrown POWER9 processor adds to the initial cost but is worth it for organizations that need a resilient, cloud-enabled server. These servers offer top-notch processing power and up to 4TB of memory, easing cloud applications, analytics, and other demanding workloads.
The Power System S922 also includes fifteen PCIe 4.0 slots and two U.2 modules slots for expansion capabilities. The list of embedded features includes the PowerVM hypervisor. In line with its cloud-optimized focus, the PowerVM can consolidate and plan workloads that result in reduced overhead costs.
Read our in-depth guide to the IBM Power System S922
Inspur was one of the first organizations to manufacture servers in China. As of late 2020, the company is just short of Dell EMC and HPE in global revenue for the broader server market.
We look at our first 4U server via the Inspur NF8480 M6. This four-socket module is fit for high-performance computing such as AI and deep learning inference and offers a whopping 50 slots for SAS, SATA, and NVMe drives. With 19 slots for PCIe 3.0 drives, this server is only second to Dell EMC’s E980. With the addition of 24 Intel Optane Persistent Memory 200 series, the total memory capacity is 7.5 TB.
The Inspur NF8480 M6 is a highly scalable solution and flexible for administrators who need full-height and half-height options for I/O balance and expansion.
Lenovo ThinkSystem SR630
If you are looking for a higher-end server with up to 7.5TB memory and 123TB storage capacity, the Lenovo ThinkSystem SR630 is hard to beat. It scored very well in benchmark tests for single-threaded compute-intensive applications and is well-regarded for most large enterprises.
Featuring the latest Intel Xeon processors, it comes with flexible I/O expansion options, four PCIe 4.0 slots, and four NVMe ports. It is also able to cope with harsh environments and keeps energy costs low relative to the amount of raw compute power it unleashes. With the Lenovo XClarity Controller and Administrator, the user experience only keeps improving for server managers.
Read our in-depth guide to the Lenovo SR630
Oracle Server X8-2
The Oracle Server X8 series is the newest industry line of x86 servers for middleware and application workloads. The Oracle Server X8-2 specifically is a compact, 1U module that allows up to 64TB of memory and 51.2TB of storage. For Oracle users, the X8-2 is a no-brainer as it interoperates with the wide range of Oracle hardware and software packages.
Unlike its predecessor, Oracle Server X7-2, which used 1st Gen Intel Xeon Scalable processors, the X8-2 is based on the Platinum or Gold 2nd Gen Intel Xeon Scalable processors. This upgrade means being able to execute in-silicon patches for Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities whereas prior generations required microcode patches.
Read our in-depth guide to its predecessor Oracle S7-2
Dell EMC PowerEdge R840
The PowerEdge R840 is the second four-socket rack server to make the list and is a big upgrade over the previous generation from Dell. Its small footprint includes up to four 2nd Gen Intel Xeon processors, 24 NVMe drives, and can also support two GPUs to accelerate workloads. Impressively, it comes with the second most memory offered in this rack server guide, with up to 6TB in capacity, and expanded to over 15TB capacity when using DC persistent memory and load reduction DIMM (LRDIMM).
If you are looking for an entry-level server, this is not it. But for more sophisticated workloads or a powerhouse server that can host multiple virtualized applications, this is a strong candidate.
Read our in-depth guide to the Dell EMC PowerEdge R840
HPE Proliant DL325 Gen10
The HPE Proliant DL325 Gen10 is a general-purpose server that packs more into a single socket than most 2-processor servers can manage. Notably, the Gen10 offers 2x the performance of the prior generation. For organizations that demand an enterprise-class processor without purchasing a dual processor, this might be for you.
The DL325 is a 2nd Gen AMD EYPC-based platform with enough security included to suit enterprise needs. It has plenty of memory in the form of 64 GB RDIMMs, supporting up to 2TB of memory. It boasts a low power consumption profile and power-packed chassis along with 8 NVMe drives, two PCIe 3.0 slots, and networking options.
Read our in-depth guide to the HPE Proliant DL325
IBM Power System E980
For our second IBM pick, the Power System E980 is a mammoth of a server for a 4U, quad-socket module. Ideal for large-scale, mission-critical applications, this server comes with a solid list of reliability, availability, and serviceability features.
With the use of four POWER9 processors, the Power System E980 can manage up to 48 cores per socket and 64 TB in memory. Though the server only offers 16 slots for NVMe, the E980 tops our list in PCIe 4.0 with 32 slots for optimized interconnection between system components.
The Power System E980 also provides easy to execute consolidation of under-utilized servers by sharing POWER9 processor resources. All said, the E980 is a good solution for enterprises working heavily with AIX, IBM i, and Linux applications.
Oracle SPARC T8-1
We can’t finish our list of top rack servers without mentioning the SPARC M8 processor, which just a few years ago set a world record for Java enterprise performance. All in a condensed 1U, single-socket server, the Oracle SPARC T8-1 is an excellent general-purpose machine and is reportedly 2x faster than competitor systems for Java software, databases, and applications.
Built for enterprise workloads, the SPARC T8-1 contains 16 DIMMs and can hold a maximum memory of 6.4 TB with NVDIMM capabilities. With only 8 insertable drives–only 4 of which can be NVMe–and 6 PCIe 3.0 ports, the server can store up to 25.6 TB. For organizations using Oracle software, adopting the T8-1 for its integration is a worthwhile consideration. Additional software like Oracle VM comes built-in to aid virtualization.
|Server||FF||Sockets||Max Processors||Max Memory||Drives Supported||Starting Price|
|Cisco C225 M6||2U||2||3rd Gen Intel Xeon||12 TB||28||–|
|Dell EMC R750||2U||2||3rd Gen Intel Xeon||8 TB||24||–|
|Fujitsu RX4770||2U||4||3rd Gen Intel Xeon||15 TB||24||$2,102|
|HPE DL380 Gen10||2U||2||2nd Gen Intel Xeon||9 TB||30||$1,580|
|Huawei 2288H V5||2U||2||2nd Gen Intel Xeon||3 TB||31||$1,900|
|IBM S922||2U||2||POWER9||4 TB||14||$10,512|
|Inspur NF8480 M6||4U||4||3rd Gen Intel Xeon||12 TB||50||–|
|Lenovo SR630||1U||2||3rd Gen Intel Xeon||6 TB||16||$2,285|
|Oracle X8-2||1U||2||2nd Gen Intel Xeon||64 TB||8||$8,800|
|Dell EMC R840||2U||4||2nd Gen Intel Xeon||15 TB||26||$7,706|
|HPE DL325 Gen10||1U||1||2nd Gen AMD EPYC||2 TB||8||$1,639|
|IBM E980||4U||4||POWER9||64 TB||16||–|
|Oracle T8-1||1U||1||SPARC M8||1 TB||8||–|
A Closer Look at Rack Servers
- What is a rack server?
- What is a 1U Rack Server?
- Rack Server Components
- How do rack servers work?
- How are rack servers compared?
- Benefits of rack servers
- Self-Contained and Accessible
- Efficient Space Usage
- Cooling Mechanism
- Rack server considerations
- Rack server market
- Rack server: Contained, condensed, and cool
What Is a Rack Server?
Rack servers are mountable servers placed in metal frame racks. Rack servers are one of three form factors for servers, with the other two standards being blade servers and tower servers.
As data centers and IT professionals worked to develop improved methods for storing more servers while not sacrificing space or connectivity, server racks entered the scene. Server racks offer the space, fit, and proper environment for servers to continue operating at a high performance.
Also Read: Blade Servers vs. Rack Servers vs. Tower Servers
What is a 1U rack server?
Racks are designed to hold the dimensions of rack servers. Standardized frames are 19 inches wide and a variable number of rack units or U’s (equivalent to 1.75in) in height. A standard rack-mount server is a 1U rack server, with a width of 19″ and a height of 1.75″. Most rack servers are 1U or 2U, but the largest rack server comes in at 70U (10ft).
With pre-installed rails for a 2U rack server’s height, the data center administrator only needs a push inwards and rack screws to secure the 19″ by 3.5″ module into the rack.
Also Read: Dell Continues to Rise
Rack Server Components
|Motherboard||Enables communication between components|
|Central Processing Unit (CPU)||Executes start instructions; also known as the processor|
|Random Access Memory (RAM)||Stores server memory; increases speed of data access|
|Host Bus Adapter (HBA)||Connects external devices to server|
|I/O Ports||Embedded into system board for endpoint access into system|
|Drive Bays||Open slots for adding hard drives (HDD) or solid state drives (SDD)|
|Supporting equipment||All else needed for smooth performance: rails, screws, cable managers, cooling system, sensors, etc.|
|NVMe||Non-Volatile Memory express facilitates access to storage and come in the form of SSDs, NVMe cards, and M.2 cards|
|PCIe||Peripheral Component Interconnect express connects expanded hardware to the motherboard|
Also Read: What is Rack Software?
How Are Rack Servers Compared?
Manufacturers have designed servers to do just about everything you can imagine a computer to do. When comparing rack servers, the indicators frequently used to compare products include:
- Target workloads: What tasks is the server capable of or specializes in doing?
- Processor type: Which CPU processors are included with the rack server?
- Memory: What is the server’s RAM capacity and DIMM slots count?
- NVMe drives: How many drives of NVMe drives are available?
- PCIe slots: How many PCIe slots are there and are they compatible with 3rd and 4th Gen PCIe?
- Disk drives: What size and how many disk drives are insertable?
- Storage: How much total storage is possible?
- Rack height: How many Us does the device take up?
- Operating systems: What OS software is the server compatible with?
- Integrated security: What security features come pre-installed on the server?
How Do Rack Servers Work?
The rack environment has been critical to organizations because it offers interchangeability and access for essential components, including the server rack. A server rack’s easy implementation also means server administrators can easily remove them for inspection and troubleshooting. Rack servers can also hot-swap with another server to continue the mission-critical activity and limit downtime.
Because a rack server describes the form factor and not the intent, rack servers can take on any number of roles for a network. Responsibilities could include storage, email, web, proxy, application server duties, data-intensive applications, and more.
Also Read: Web Server Log Analysis Tools
Benefits of Rack Servers
Self-contained and accessible
Rack servers are designed with their power source, CPU, and memory to run as a standalone or network system. The server’s operation is independent of the remaining rack components, which means that the rack server can be installed, configured, or removed quickly–without disassembly of the rack’s infrastructure or downtime.
Also Read: Fault-Tolerant Yet Affordable Servers
Efficient space usage
In a world intent on expanding resources, available physical space is a data center’s most precious gift. The thinking goes more space, more racks, more server power. Racks and the servers built to fill them maximize space limitations with the dense organization. Unless dealing with a 70U rack server, frames hold many servers and equipment that save space.
A top priority of any server administrator is ensuring the module won’t overheat when working hard. Unlike blade and tower servers, rack servers have an incredible capacity for a cooling system. Many racks come pre-installed with cooling systems today, with more available for installation. Fit with real-time sensors and accessible configuration, the rack server’s cooling mechanism protects against overheating and system failure. And the more powerful and densely packed servers become, the more important cooling becomes.
Also Read: Keeping Cool in the Server Room
Rack Server Considerations
Though many of the top solutions share some of these features, buyers should consider the following factors when purchasing rack servers:
- Processing Power
- Size, Weight, and Power (SWaP)
Whether an organization needs additional storage, additional servers, or a server replacement, rack servers are the best form factor. With their portability and ease of access, organizations can scale, expand, and upgrade their systems seamlessly. Still, processing power remains the biggest selling point for server manufacturers.
Size, weight, and power (SWaP) also play their part and can cause faulty server or rack performance if not correctly configured. For example, an overly heavy rack server could require more cooling. Without adjusting the cooling system or moving other components, the rack’s pieces are at risk of overheating.
Also Read: Racking Up Server Density
After raking in $83.66 billion in 2020, the global server market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.8%% between 2021 to 2028. Rack server sales accounted for over half of server market revenue with $43 billion.
As noted, nearly 50% of the server industry market has long been owned by Dell, HPE, and IBM. One of the reasons for this is clear market stratification—the ODM white boxes on the low end and the midrange and high-end systems are experiencing massive growth as separate segments. So as you shop, be aware of what price level you find most appropriate for your business.
More than just high-computing machines, vendors continue to add features that support big data analytics, software-defined solutions, and hyper-converged infrastructure. Factors influencing the server market include increasing data center needs and the adoption of new technologies like cloud computing.
Also Read: Dell Server Guide | Tower, Rack & Blade | Features & Price
Rack Servers: Contained, Condensed, and Cool
Rack servers are self-contained to prevent disruption to other rack components, condensed to offer high-powered performance in minimal space, and are kept cool to facilitate the best environment for work. On top of these features, rack servers offer organizations scalability, expandability, and upgradability. Racks offer both the additional space and structural framework for organizations to scale out or up and upgrade when necessary.
Originally written by Drew Robb on January 28, 2019. Revised by Sam Ingalls on April 4, 2021.