Lenovo ThinkSystem SR650 review

Lenovo thinks outside the box with its classy SR650 rack server


In its broadest product launch since acquiring IBM's System x portfolio, Lenovo has gone back to the drawing board and completely redesigned its ThinkSystem servers from the ground up. They deliver a wealth of new features and in this exclusive review we bring you a first look at its ThinkSystem SR650 general purpose 2U rack server.

Support for Intel's Xeon Scalable CPU family is at the top of Lenovo's agenda and the SR650 shows off a new storage design offering more choices. Along with support for up to 14 LFF or 24 SFF drives, the SR650 features embedded NMVe PCI-Express ports as standard, while the AnyBay carriers from previous generations increase storage versatility.

A welcome update for us is Lenovo's embedded XCC (xClarity Controller) chip. Remote server management has been a major weakness of current System x and ThinkServer platforms and the XCC puts it firmly alongside Dell's iDRAC9 and HPE's iLO5 for features.


Management
The first benefit of the ThinkSystem firmware became apparent when we powered the SR650 up; boot times have been drastically reduced. Our lab's System x3550 M5 rack server takes a yawn-inducing 6 minutes to go from power on to OS login, whereas the SR650 cut our waiting time to 110 seconds.

OS deployment is easier too, as the xClarity Provisioning Manager provides an assisted installation routine. Selected during boot up, it helped us get a RAID array created and Windows Server 2016 loaded with all the correct drivers inside 30 minutes.


There's much more, as the XCC web interface is like nothing we've seen from Lenovo before. It's slick home page opens with a wealth of information about all critical components, quick access to remote control, a rundown on all firmware versions and a set of coloured blocks showing utilization and system wide power usage.

It provides a full inventory of every hardware component and a detailed breakdown of power usage, component utilization, fan and voltage status plus system temperatures. You also have direct configuration access to the RAID controllers, firmware update tools and options to set server, firmware and access security.

After updating the lab's xClarity Administrator Hyper-V host to v1.3.2, we were able to add the SR650 to its console, remotely monitor it and use its image library for centralized OS deployment. We also used Lenovo's xClarity Mobile iOS app on our iPad to remotely access the Administrator host and a new feature for cellular-equipped mobiles is the ability to tether them directly to the ThinkSystem's front USB port for local monitoring.



Storage
The server's front panel uses the popular 8+8+8 drive bay configuration, allowing it to support from 8 to 24 SFF drives (HPE's DL380 Gen10 supports 30 SSF drives). The SR650 LFF model has room for up to 12 drives at the front and this chassis also supports an optional two-bay cage fitted at the rear in place of the 3-slot PCI-Express riser.

Lenovo's AnyBay is unique as it supports SAS, SATA, standard SSD or NVMe PCIe SSD interfaces in the same bay. With the appropriate AnyBay backplane factory fitted (and dual CPUs), the SR650 16-bay model can handle up to eight of these bays.

The clincher is the pair of embedded dual-port NVMe PCIe connectors on the motherboard. Other server vendors require you to purchase an optional adapter card for NVMe drives but the SR650 supports four out of the box at no extra cost -- the extra four require Lenovo's optional NVMe switch adapter.

RAID choices are plentiful with the review system including a ThinkSystem 930-8i SAS3 adapter fitted in the dedicated PCI-Express slot in the centre of the motherboard and including 2GB of battery protected Flash cache. Lenovo also offers a dual M.2 SATA SSD enablement kit and two mirrored 128GB modules for only £328.


Expansion and power
Internally, the server is well designed with easy access afforded to all major components. The SR650 supports the entire Xeon Scalable family with the price of our review system including dual 8-core 2.1GHz Xeon Silver 4110 CPUs partnered by 32GB of TRuDDR4 memory.

The Xeon Silver CPUs are aimed at entry-level data centre applications with all five models supporting 2,400MHz memory, 768GB per socket plus Intel's HT and Turbo Boost technologies. Their low 85W TDP was reflected in our power tests, and the server drew 80W in idle and a mere 118W under extreme load.

The server was supplied with the full complement of six internal hot-swap cooling fans and dual 750W Platinum hot-plug PSUs. Other PSU options include 550W, 750W Titanium, 1100W and 1600W and all share a common form factor across the entire ThinkSystem range.

Instead of embedded network ports, the motherboard provides a LOM slot which links up with the C624 PCH and supports dual or quad Gigabit and 10GbE cards. Lenovo's Infiniband and 25/40/100GbE cards require a separate riser with an ML2 slot.

Conclusion
The ThinkSystem SR650 represent a huge step forward for Lenovo as it's well designed, good value and highly expandable. Support for the Xeon Scalable family allows it to be customized to suit any workload, storage features see big improvement and the new xClarity Controller finally brings Lenovo into 21st-century server management.

Specifications 
Chassis: 2U rack
CPU: 2 x 8-core 2.1GHz Intel Xeon Silver 4110
Memory: 32GB TruDDR4 (max 3TB)
Storage: 2 x 400GB Lenovo SAS3 SFF SSD (max 24)
RAID: Lenovo ThinkSystem RAID 930-8i SAS3/2GB Flash/BBU
Array support: RAID0, 1, 10, 5, 50, 6, 60
Expansion: 7 x PCI-Express 3 (6 free)
Network: 4 x Gigabit LOM
Power: 2 x 750W hot-plug PSUs
Management: XCC Enterprise, xClarity Administrator
Warranty: 3yrs on-site NBD
Options: Dual mirrored 128GB M.2 SATA SSD kit, £328 ex VAT