HP ProLiant Gen8 | technical deepdive

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Last month HP launched new generation ProLiant servers as Gen8. The day after we allready had a in depth Q&A about the new technologies with some product managers. Read the transcript of that Q&A on my previous blogpost here.

I do presales for a Gold partner so we get in depth sessions on new products that dig deeper especially on the differences to the former models and why some of the choices are made as they are. Today I joined such a technical deepdive, lead by Colin Taylor. Colin is a “Gen8 Master“. This means he is one of those few guys that reads ones and zeroes in your system when 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th line support just don’t know anymore where to go with your issues. Colin has worked with the Gen8 servers since summer 2011 so is thé man for the job. Today we were the Padawans to this Master.

So what’s new, what’s different?
Let me start by how the Gen8 has been engineered. If you look between generations you’ll find that the G7 was more or less a decent upgrade of the G6. This time the Gen8 has been re-engineered entirely. Every-time someone had to call HP for support they were asked if there was a business outage or not. Once that answer was yes, they had to ask more details what happened and why. And then all the work started. An entire team went through all these calls, sorted them out and gave these groups of information to the specific designing teams to get this solved in the next generation. Almost all differences except for the new technologies are based upon this closed quality loop.

Not all the models are out at launch. In fact there are multiple release programs and each time a bunch of new models will come out. For example you’ll only find Intel 2-way model at this release. There are also some differences in the series. The 300 series for example will have a “p” version and a “?” version. The P = Performance and ? = ??? (*). These are entirely different products with different Motherboard, CPU, … 

Flexible LOM:
we already had 10GbE onboard from the G6 blade servers but for the rack servers you would always  have your default 4x1GbE from the manufacturer HP has chosen for you. This changes as of Gen8. You will have the option (on most models) to choose whether you want 1GbE, 10GbE or … 

New disk types / Memory:
The G7 and Gen8 disks are not interchangeable. It is not really a technical issue related to the disks itself but to the media carrier. It’s smaller and has more functionalities. There are more lights on it to give you more in depth information on the status of the specific disk. For example there is a “do not remove” light that lights on when removing that drive would result in loss of data. Think in a RAID5+1 spare configuration the lights of all remaining disks would go on when 2 disks have failed. This feature is one of those thing that came out of that “Outage Program”. 
Wear Gauge: we get more and more SSDs in the servers but this brings in new issues. the lifetime of an SSD relies very much on the usage of it. If you wear it down, it might not live as long as you’d expect. Therefore the warranty system for SSDs will be more like on a cartridge: if it has had its lifetime you’ll have to replace it, broken or not.
There are also checks if the disk drives are in fact a genuine HP disk drives. This is the same for the memory. The DDR3 memory of a G7 server is also not interchangeable in Gen8 because of some extra features. One of them is that there is a 32Gb Quad Rank DIMM that shows to the CPU as a Dual Rank type just for the fact of being able to use all the lanes. Another cool memory aspect is that when using HP genuine DIMMs (no Kingston for example) you’ll be able to run higher speed then in industry standards even on fully equipped servers.

iLO4 and Agentless Management:
this part is for the admins and engineers. Start drooling ’cause a lot of your complaints have been answered. For starters the iLO4 now has agentless management and monitoring. You no longer have to install insight management agents on the Operating System. Everything is on the iLO from the moment there is standby power available. It will be the iLO that talks directly to the HP SIM (or any other management server like SCOM).

NAND on motherboard:
HP has put a 4GB NAND cjip on the motherboard. THis on-board storage device helps us with a handfull of tasks.

  • AHS – Active Health System Log: all system actions are logged into the AHS from the moment the machine comes out of the factory (even already in the factory). If you ever have an issue with your server, this log will tell everything to the support team they need. It resides on a 1GB partition on that NAND chip. There is a compression algorithm (runs at night) on it that should be capable of keeping up to 1,5 year of logs (if you are not rebooting 10 times a day off course). Once the log gets full it overwrites the oldest entries (FIFO).
  • SmartStart: or the lack of it! There is no more SmartStart because there is no need for it anymore. All the necessary utilities for deploy and management are also on the NAND drive.
  • VID – Virtual Installation Disk. This is a partition with all necessary drivers (no firmware) for the installation of 64-bit(**) machines is. You can even enable this to be accessible by the Operating System so you won’t have to press F6 anymore to add the necessary NIC or RAID drivers during installation. If you don’t want it to be visible anymore after installation, you’ll have to disable that again. During the installation procedure you will be able to choose the repository for firmware between the HP website or any other share that is accessible through FTP/HTTP.
HP now has the SPP (Service Pack for ProLiant) that replaces the former PSP with all testing tools, firmware and drivers together. One very drastic change in support is that HP will now support any system that has an SPP no older then 12 months. Up until today you had to be entirely up-to-date before you even got support. Great enhancement IMHO.
(**) only x64 deploy: this was to get all the necessary drivers in a small space. There is also no longer a support what so ever for Server2003 on any Gen8 server. This is a constraint of Microsoft!
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