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Despite advances in technology, when it comes to processing cores there are some applications that simply can't get enough, or the memory to go with them. But then that's exactly the kind of application the new Fenway 1580-06 from Boston Limited loves, with its eight 10-core Xeons delivering an impressive 80 processing cores, accompanied by an equally impressive 2TB of RAM. And if that's still not enough, you can plug in up to four Nvidia GPU cards, each adding further 512 specialised processing cores and 6GB of RAM.
Based on a SuperMicro design, the Fenway 1580-06 fits all of this technology into a compact 5U chassis designed to fit in a standard 19in. rack. Although energy saving is unlikely to be a major consideration, there are four 1,400W Gold Level certified power supplies that can be hot-swapped from the front without powering down, for maximum availability.
And that's just as well, as the Boston behemoth takes quite some time to power up what's inside, starting with some very chunky processor modules. There are four of these cartridge-like units inside the Fenway 1580-06, each containing a board with two processor sockets to take either eight-core Nehalem-EX Xeons (from the Intel Xeon 7500 series) or the latest eight- and ten-core Westmere-EX chips — now more mundanely known as the Xeon E7-8800 family.
Buyers of this kind of server will nearly always go for a fully populated setup — after all, the whole point of the product is its raw processing power. Moreover, most will opt for the fastest processors possible, like those on the review system which came with eight Xeon E7-8800 processors supporting ten cores each, clocked at 2.4GHz with 30MB of cache and a 130W power envelope.
That said, other E7-8800 Xeons can be specified including, for those concerned about energy efficiency, a couple of 105W implementations, in the form of the eight-core E7-8830 and the ten-core E7-8867L.
The processing modules also provide the slots for the RAM with sixteen DIMM slots arranged either side of the processors to take DDR3 registered ECC memory modules. Here too, customers are expected to take full advantage of the massive 2TB ceiling and use the Boston server to, for example, load large databases into memory for maximum performance or act as a virtualisation or cloud-computing host where memory can be a major restraint on the number of VMs that can be supported. Our review system was supplied with 128GB of RAM.
The Fenway 1580-06 fits up to eight Xeon CPUs, 2TB of RAM and four Nvidia GPUs into a compact 5U chassis with 16 2.5in. drive bays
The processing cartridges simply slot into a large motherboard located in the bottom of the chassis with a couple of small bridge boards screwed on top to complete the circuitry. Dual Intel 7500 (Boxboro-EX) chipsets on the motherboard glue these all together, over a QuickPath Interconnect (QPI) rated at 6.4GT/s.
Also on the motherboard are ten PCI-E expansion slots which, as well as hosting things like network and storage adapters, can be used to accommodate the optional Nvidia GPU cards. However, it's worth noting that specialised software is required to take advantage of these, so there's little point having them in most Windows or Linux server setups. Indeed, they're more usually found inside workstations and compute-intensive HPC platforms.
Networking is handled by a couple of on-board Intel Gigabit Ethernet controllers, which may seem a bit limiting on an 8-way server. However, 10GbE adapters can always be added if this becomes a bottleneck.
There's a third network port dedicated solely to IPMI remote management, with all the firmware needed to take advantage of this included as standard. That includes support for KVM over IP using nothing more than a Java-enabled browser, plus remote media handling, making remote management straightforward.
Sixteen 2.5in. drive bays are also to be found at the front of the unit, with room for another eight if required. These can take SATA, SAS or SSD drives; there's an Intel SATA controller (RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10) on the motherboard, plus the option of one or more plug-in RAID controllers for more advanced configurations.
Naturally what you choose here is going to have an impact on the price; our review system came with an 8-port LSI SAS controller and eight 600GB Western Digital SAS hard disks spinning at 10,000rpm. But there's plenty of choice, including those hugely fast SSDs for customers with the deep pockets.
Other features to note include eight USB ports and a total of six hot-swap fans that can push air through the chassis at a massive rate to keep things cool. They also make the server rather loud, although they're thermostatically controlled and once through the initial startup 'whoosh' settle down to a more reasonable background hum.
The impressive Fenway 1580-06 is far removed from your average general-purpose server, and is also far from cheap — our review configuration came to £38,999 (ex. VAT). But then, you get what you pay for — and you get a great deal here. Moreover, despite the mind-boggling specs, we found it no harder to setup or manage than servers half the size.
When it comes to applications, there are many that wouldn't benefit at all from running on this platform. However, those that need maximum processing power and masses of memory certainly will. Large databases, server and desktop virtualisation, and cloud computing we've already mentioned, but we can also see ERP and BI systems gaining from what the Fenway 1580-06 has to offer.
And what about the alternatives? Few and far between is the answer; there are other 8-way servers to be had, but none are this scalable unless you're prepared to step outside the industry-standard comfort zone — and for many, that's simply not an option.