Well here it is, the latest edition to the TechHead lab environment… a Lenovo TS200 server. As you may know I am an avid fan and user of the HP Proliant ML110 and ML115 range of servers in my lab though with the significant price increase of the ML110 G6 and the ML115 range going end of life I have started to cast my gaze a little wider looking for other potential cost-effective VMware vSphere lab servers. Now don’t get me wrong, the ML110 G6 still offers good value for money though with it’s £400 approx price tag means that there are other comparable entry level server offerings available from server vendors such as Dell and Lenovo.
Servers Plus who I have used for the last couple of years for purchasing my lab servers had a batch of discounted Lenovo TS200 servers (£250.00) become available so despite the lack of space in the TechHead man-cave/lab environment I couldn’t resist a bargain and snapped one up. This is the first Lenovo I’ve purchased so I was curious to see how it compared in feature and build quality to that of the HP ML110/ML115 models.
The server box and the foam packaging is substantial enough to take most in-transit knocks, with one of the most noticeable things being the increase in the size of the packing box over that of the HP ML110 and ML115’s boxes I’ve been used to up until now. Within the box there was the usual installation and documentation CD’s along with the power cords. It doesn’t come with any keyboard or mouse as some servers do.
After removing the TS200 from the box, the first thing to strike me was the TS200’s size in comparison to that of the smaller ML110 or ML115. The best way to demonstrate this is through the photo below which shows the Lenovo TS200 and an HP ML110 G6 side by side.
This larger size, and weight of the TS200 certainly gives it the feeling and look of being a more medium level server inline with an HP ML330 or ML350. Though in fairness the usual recommended retail price of the TS200 is closer to that of an ML330 rather than an ML110 or ML115. If you have limited space in your work or home lab environment such as I do the size of a server is a consideration.
Front of Server:
The look of the server, as would be expected, is very IBM’ish in a smart black colour with all the looks and lack of styling of a 1990’s large mini-tower case. As the saying goes “it’s what’s on the inside that counts” though before we move onto the TS200’s innards let’s take a look at the outside of the case. The front of the TS200’s case has the power button, 2 x USB 2.0 ports and a CD/DVD drive. There is space for a second CD/DVD drive and the hard disk(s) are accessed via the removable lower front cover.
Rear of Server including Network:
Coming around to the back of the server you will notice the usual interfaces such as a monitor and serial port, 4 x USB 2.0 ports and 2 x 1Gb Ethernet ports. One of the Ethernet ports is used for the management connectivity as well as general Ethernet traffic. As you can see there are no PS2 ports for either the keyboard or mouse so initial control of the server is either via a USB keyboard/mouse or via the onboard management console’s KVM feature (IMM advanced license required).
Side Panel Entry:
Entry into the server is via a removable side panel which can be secured via a key based lock. Removing and replacing the side panel is an easy task with it fitting nicely into the guides at the bottom of the server.
With the side panel removed, what is presented is a traditional tower server layout though there has obviously been some thought put into things such as the mounting and release mechanisms associated with the CD/DVD and hard disks.
The power house of the Lenovo is a single Intel Quad Core x3430 2.4GHz processor which is situated on a system board running the Intel Ibex Peak chipset. The x3430 processor having been released in Q3 2009 has all the usual modern CPU enhancements you’d expect including Intel VT-x and VT-d which are both highly useful for when running the server as a virtualization host, which in my case is exactly what I’ll be using it for.
Below is a summary of the X3430 specification and it’s ‘Advanced Technologies’.
The TS200’s case has space for 4 x 3.5” SAS or SATA drives or 8 x 2.5” SAS/SATA drives. With the particular model of TS200 I purchased it came a single 500GB SATA II hard disk. If you want to add extra drives into the server you will need to purchase a drive mounting kit, so factor this in if considering buying the server.
In my vSphere lab environment I use iomega ix4-200d and Open Filer iSCSI/NFS based storage appliances to host and run my VMs from so don’t have a requirement for multiple or performance disks in the server.
If I did want to run multiple drives I could harness the power of the 6 Gbps SAS 2.0 PCI Express 2.0 ServeRAID M1015 storage controller which came with the server and is installed in the 8 x PCIe slot. By default the ML1015 controller can provide RAID 0,1 and 1+0 though there is an ‘Advanced Feature Key’ which gives the option of RAID 5 and SED Encryption Key management.
It is quite refreshing to find a dedicated array controller card in this level of server, rather than the basic onboard array controllers found on the likes of the ML110 or ML115. Though as mentioned earlier in this post the usual (RRP) price for the Lenovo TS200 does bring it in line with an HP ML330 which can come with a 6G SAS and 3G SATA support via the HP P410 array controller.
So as you can see there is sufficient storage controller horse power on tap should you ever want to present local VMFS storage for a vSphere lab environment – just add drives (and some drive rail kits). I will provide some drive performance stats in the follow up post which will cover using the TS200 as a vSphere lab server.
There is a fan at the back of the drive enclosure which draws air over the top of the hard disks towards the rear of the case, which is then extracted via a larger case fan. This completes the front to back airflow which is common in almost all enterprise level servers.
With all these fans you’d think there would be a significant level of noise generated, but I am happy to report that the noise levels of the server when running is extremely quiet indeed. In fact I would go as far to say that it is easily as quiet as my ML110 and ML115’s that I also have running in my lab.
There is a single 401W non-hot pluggable power supply in this particular model of TS200 though there is a dual 410W PSU option available which would provide a level of resilience for those implementations which require it. The dual redundant power supplies are of a smaller form factor and sit alongside each other occupying the same physical space as this single non-resilience PSU model.
The maximum amount of memory able to be populated in the TS200 is dependent on whether you use registered (RDIMM) or un-buffered (UDIMM) memory modules in the 6 available DDR3 (1300) sockets. The TS200 can take both memory types though they cannot be mixed within the same server. I will spend a little time now to clarify the various memory configurations you can achieve and what is required for the following memory maximums of the server:
- UDIMM Memory Max: 16GB
- RDIMM Memory Max: 32GB
UDIMM (Unbuffered) Memory:
Even with the 16GB achievable through the use of UDIMMs this will be more than adequate for many virtualization labs or even small production virtualization deployments. For many UDIMM memory will be the preferable option due to it’s lower cost.
It should be noted that DIMM sockets 3 and 6 cannot be used when installing UDIMM memory into the server which contributes to the lower memory maximum achievable using UDIMMs. The following table best outlines the DIMM type required using UDIMMs to configure the various memory sizes. As you can see to achieve the maximum UDIMM 16GB capacity you will need to use 4 x dual-ranked 4GB UDIMMs. At the time of writing this post 4GB DIMMs still come with a significant price tag though this will no doubt change in the coming year.
The following table outlines the ideal memory configuration for when you want to achieve optimal memory performance using UDIMMs. Note that sockets 3 & 6 are not used as explained above.
RDIMM (Registered) Memory:
The RDIMM memory has totally different requirements when taking the TS200 up to its maximum 32GB of memory. The table below shows the required memory configuration to achieve the various memory capacities. As with the UDIMM memory you should pay careful attention whether the memory you are purchasing is single, dual or quad ranked.
For maximum RDIMM memory configuration use the table below as a guide:
There are a healthy number of expansion options in the TS200, with 2 x PCIe x8 (gen 2), 1 x PCIe x4 and a pair of PCI (32 bit, 33MHz) slots available. This would be more than sufficient for most production and lab environments. I should point out however that one of the PCIe x8 slots is occupied by the ServeRAID M1015 storage controller.
There is an internal USB port which is a standard feature on most servers these days and can be utilised to provide a USB pen drive bootable VMware ESXi environment. I favour running my vSphere lab servers off of USB pen drive as it allows me to quickly swap between versions of ESXi by simply inserting a USB pen drive containing another version of ESXi. Also, if you do run your VMs on the local storage then you don’t have the worry about possibly overwriting the VMFS data storage containing the VMs during upgrades of ESX/ESXi which may be sharing the same physical disk.
The amount of power a server consumes is not only an issue for those businesses running servers in a data centre environment but also for those of us running our own home labs, especially if they are left running 24×7. The Lenovo TS200 when running 4-6 non-intensive VMs consumes between 82-87 Watts of power and is drawing 0.39 AMPs. This is comparable to the HP ML110 and ML115 which are also cost effective to run and considering the TS200 has a set of extra fans (in the drive bay) this is good economical computing in my opinion.
This particular model of Lenovo TS200 comes with a 1 yr business day response warranty as standard, though this is able to be upgraded if required. As this server is for non-production use in my lab environment this level of response is more than sufficient. Also by using ESX/ESXi High Availability (HA) and adding the TS200 into a VM cluster with my Intel based ML110 G5 I only risk minimal down-time to my VMs anyway.
The Lenovo TS200 has been something of a pleasant surprise especially at the price (£250) it was on offer at. I have never been particularly impressed with the build quality of the IBM x86 range of servers in the past and although this is a Lenovo the design and build are that of what has traditionally been an IBM.
The TS200 doesn’t disappoint when it comes to build quality with its substantial feel, use of decent metal and non-burred plastic. Sure the look of the server is somewhat dated and a few more curves on the edges would help soften its appearance but at the end of the day when it comes to servers it’s what is on the inside that ultimately counts.
There are a couple of areas which make the TS200 stand out for me at the offer price I bought it at. The first is the inclusion of a dedicated array controller card (ServeRAID M1015) and the second being the maximum memory capacity of the server (16/32GB). The Intel Xeon x3430 processor is also a bonus with many entry level servers now starting to offer standard desktop Intel i3 or i5 processors to help keep prices down.
A couple of things that I did find a little disappointing is the requirement to purchase rail kits to add extra drives into the drive enclosure and the hefty price tag (ie: £199+) to add remote KVM functionality to the onboard management card.
Would I have purchased a Lenovo TS200 at its full recommended price of £550 approx? Probably not, as I would have stuck with the HP Proliant range of servers that I know and like though at the competitive price (£250.00) I bought the TS200 for I was more than happy to take a punt and as a result was pleasantly surprised with my new Lenovo purchase.
For a company such as Lenovo who are trying to increase their market share in the server space what better way to increase their profile and increase the industry awareness of their servers than by getting them into the hands of those who either make or influence server infrastructure purchases. One of the most effective way of achieving this in my opinion is by offering a couple of their entry level servers such as the TS200 at a highly competitive price which will mean people will be prepared to buy and start using their servers in either a lab, testing or small production environment. From there the Lenovo lab or test servers purchased would have potentially proven their worth and as such be considered as a contender during the next round of enterprise level server hardware refreshes.
For a long time the HP ML110 and ML115 held the sub £250 entry level server spot offering some enterprise level components such as the Xeon or Opteron processors, which made them ideal for a lab server. Though with the introduction of the HP ML110 G6 and it’s new £390.00 price point this sub £250.00 space is once again wide open and ready for the taking. Perhaps Lenovo may consider making this offer price more of a permanent fixture?
What Next – Is it a decent vSphere lab server?
So the Lenovo TS200 on the surface does seem a good entry level server but how will it stack up as a VMware vSphere lab server? Watch this space for a follow-up post in the coming days which will run through installing vSphere onto the TS200, along with configuration and performance details. Will it prove to be a contender to the ML110/ML115’s vSphere lab throne?