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Dell R720 Edges Ahead of HP in 2U Rack-Mount Server Performance Tests

The Dell PowerEdge R720 2U rack-mount server scored impressive results in eWEEK Labs' benchmark tests and comes with a bevy of enhanced features that make the 12th-generation server system a worthy replacement for the R710.

Compared with a similarly configured Hewlett-Packard DL380 Gen8 server using the Geekbench performance benchmark, the Dell PowerEdge R720 scored 40064, or 12 percent higher than the 35202 score achieved by the HP system.

The Dell PowerEdge R720 became available in March and as tested cost $13,079. Many of the performance increases now available in the Dell PowerEdge R720 come from Intel’s March release of the Xeon E5-2600 processors and the C6xx chip set family. IT managers have competitive choices, including the HP ProLiant DL30 and the IBM System x3650 M4, both of which use the E5-2600 family processors.

IT managers who are looking at replacing workhorse data center servers with the latest Intel Xeon E5-2600 family of processor and motherboard technology should add the Dell PowerEdge R720 to their short list. Even shops running primarily HP equipment should consider the PowerEdge R720, which comes with the ability to emulate HP system management operations so that the Dell equipment can fit into existing management framework platforms that are geared for HP servers.

The Dell PowerEdge R720 uses a Dell custom daughter card to provide a LAN on motherboard (LOM) subsystem and is called a Select Network Adapter family. The rack-mount Select Network Adapter used in my test system could be configured in a variety of ways to carve up the four network ports in a mix of 1GbE (Gigabit Ethernet) and 10GbE port options. Select network adapters are currently available from Intel and Broadcom and can be configured as 1000Base-T, 10GBASE-T and 10Gb SFP+.

There were some differences between the LOM implementation of the PowerEdge R720 and the HP DL380 Gen8 systems. Whereas all routine operations that I performed on the HP system were tool-free, I needed a screwdriver to change out the Dell Select Network adapter.

As tested, my PowerEdge R720 was equipped with two Intel Xeon E5-2690 processors running at 2.90GHz with 64GB of 1,600MHz RAM. Much like competitors that use Intel’s processor chips and QuickPath interconnect, the system can be configured with a maximum of 768GB RAM. My test system was equipped with five 300GB 10k SAS drives.

The PowerEdge R720 doubles the onboard 2.5-inch disk capacity over the previous generation R710 from 8 to 16 drives. The PowerEdge R720 also has seven Gen 3 PCI slots.

Like Dell’s competitors, nearly all the leaps in 2U server capacity have nearly everything to do with advances in power throttling technology that comes with Intel’s processors, and by pushing up power supply efficiencies. Dell and other system makers finish this work by making extensive use of internal baffles to force airflow over components and out of the system.

Although we did not test a fresh-air system, it is possible to order PowerEdge R720 configurations that can be cooled—at least part time—with fresh air. IT managers who are attempting to squeeze every possible efficiency out of their data center power bill should evaluate the Dell fresh-air systems to determine if the configurations will work with the expected workloads.

Dell, HP, Cisco and other server manufacturers predictably laud their own management systems and pooh-pooh those of their competitors. Based on my testing, here are the salient points that IT managers should consider.

While Dell’s SNMP and other system management messages may be a bit cryptic, they are uniform (in all 12th-generation rack-mount, blade and standalone configurations) across all systems. As mentioned earlier, there is an HP server emulation mode, and the integrated Dell Remote Access Controller (iDRAC) 7 Lifecycle management card costs $399.

Management systems, along with memory and processor choices can significantly affect the cost of data center servers. Dell’s iDRAC 7 comes in two flavors although most IT managers will likely find the Express version meets their needs.

When it comes to operations, the PowerEdge R720 was a breeze. The rack-mounting system is easy to install and the front bezel comes off in order to service the PCIeSSD cache drives. In nearly every other respect, the PowerEdge R720 is virtually indistinguishable from other 2U competitor systems in terms of layout and access.

One exception is the Dell Quick Resource Locator (QRL) code that is tagged on the system chassis. The tag is a model-specific Quick Response (QR) code that is located on the server. I was able to use an app on a test Samsung Galaxy S III Android phone to gain access to Dell information about the server. This was marginally faster than using the Dell service code to look up the same information via a browser. But it was a nice use of technology to improve field personnel accuracy when servicing an R720 system.