Gateway Begins Shipping Opteron-Based Servers
Published: November 14, 2006
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
As it hinted it would do a month ago, struggling server and PC maker Gateway announced last week that it has begun delivering Opteron-based servers to market. Gateway is hoping to boost its revenues and profits by becoming a supplier of servers based on Intel's Xeon processors and Advanced Micro Devices' Opterons. While Gateway has shipped servers for a number of years, the company has only recently begun to get its product line in synch with the X64 server industry at large.
In late September, Gateway put three servers into the field based on Intel's "Woodcrest" Xeon 5100 series processors, which have two cores per socket, support 64-bit memory and have the VT hardware-assisted virtualization features that make server virtualization more efficient, and importantly for Gateway, make it possible for the open source Xen hypervisor to support unmodified Windows 2000 Server and Windows Server 2003 operating systems. The equivalent AMD-V feature from AMD does the same thing in the Opteron Rev F processors. The VT and AMD-V features also help other hypervisors, such VMware's ESX Server, run more efficiently, too. The VT support is important because Gateway, as a supplier of PCs and now servers to small and medium businesses, is focused on selling Microsoft's Windows platform on its boxes, although if you want to install Linux or SCO Unix, you can do so by acquiring a bare-bones box. Red Hat's Enterprise Linux 4 and Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 and NetWare 6.5 operating systems have been certified on the Opteron boxes.
In the Woodcrest boxes that were announced last month, Gateway designed its own boards using Intel's "Blackford" 5000P chipset, and contracted with Taiwanese electronics maker Inventec to manufacture the boards. The three Opteron-based servers that are analogous to the three Woodcrest machines announced in September are based on nVidia's MCP 55Pro chipset for "Santa Rosa" Opterons, which are also known as Rev F chips. This chipset supports up to two dual-core Opteron 2000 series processors or up to four dual-core Opteron 8000 series chips. The Opteron 2000s range in speed from 1.8 GHz to 3 GHz and which provide roughly the same performance as the Woodcrest chips; the Opteron 8000s compete with the dual-core "Tulsa" Xeon 7100 processors, which do not have the new Core architecture like the Woodcrests do. All of the Opteron machines use DDR2 main memory.
With the Woodcrest boxes, Gateway announced a 1U and a 2U rack-mounted machine as well as a 5U tower machine. With the Opteron boxes, Gateway is not worrying about tower machines, and is putting out rack-based servers with 1U, 2U, and 3U form factors. The four-socket 3U box is being positioned as a machine onto which customers should load VMware's ESX Server hypervisor or Microsoft's Virtual Server 2005 to do server consolidation after virtualizing their physical machines.
The Xeon and Opteron servers all share a special adapter card called Gateway Lights Out, or GLO, that allows remote keyboard, video, and mouse (KVM) and remote media over the Internet. This allows for remote server administration without needing to add special KVM switches. Both the Xeon and Opteron boxes have disk controllers that support RAID 5 and RAID 10 data protection and have quad Gigabit Ethernet ports. The servers support a range of hot-swap Serial-Attached SCSI (SAS) or SATA-II disk drives, including 15K RPM SAS disks with 36 GB, 73 GB, and 146 GB capacities as well as SATA-II disks in 80 GB, 250 GB, 500 GB, and 750 GB capacities. All Gateway servers also come with a three-year, onsite, next-day support contract, including parts and labor, and have what's called a tool-less design, which means you don't need a screwdriver to open the box and change any component.
The E-9422R is the 1U Opteron box. It has 12 memory slots and supports up to 24 GB of main memory today, with support for 48 GB coming soon when denser and faster 667 MHz DDR2 DIMMs become available. The E-9422R comes with a singe 650 watt power supply, and a second one can be added to the box for redundancy. At most companies and supercomputing facilities, 1U servers are themselves redundant, thanks to the kinds of workloads they run, and typically they do not need high availability features like redundant power supplies. This machine can support 1.8 GHz to 2.6 GHz Opteron 2000 processors, and if you want to go for the more expensive but less hot Opteron HE variants, Gateway is happy to sell these to you. (The faster Opterons are too hot for such a compact box.) It also has two PCI-Express slots on a riser card for peripheral expansion, and slots for four disk drives in the front. A base configuration costs $1,799.
Moving up to a 2U chassis, the E-9522R server uses essentially the same board, but it has five peripheral slots (four PCI-Express and one PCI-X) and has room for six disk drives that can be added or removed from the front of the chassis. This larger machine comes with a single 700 watt power supply, and a second one can be added. This machine supports the 1.8 GHz, 2 GHz, and 2.6 GHz Opteron 2000s today, with 3 GHz support coming in the future. A base box costs $1,849.
The E-9722R is arguably the most powerful server that Gateway has ever put into the field. The 3U chassis has a dozen hot-swap disks in the front, which means it can host up to 9 TB of data without going outside to disk arrays. This box has 16 memory slots and supports a maximum of 32 GB today with 64 GB support coming shortly; it has the same five peripheral slots as the E-9522R. This high-end Gateway box also comes with redundant 700 watt power supplies standard, which is required to support eight Opteron cores and the substantial number of peripherals inside the box. Gateway is shipping the 2 GHz Opteron 8212 HE, 2.4 GHz Opteron 8216 HE, 2.4 GHz Opteron 8216, and 2.8 GHz Opteron 8220 SE processors in this box. Pricing information was not available for this box as we went to press.
In a separate announcement, Gateway said last week that its sales were down 5 percent in the third quarter, falling to $963 million. Despite the revenue decline, cost cutting in the past several quarters allowed Gateway to move into the black, posting an $18.2 million net income, which is better than the $7.7 million loss it had in the second quarter and a smidgen higher than the $15.1 million net profit the company had in the third quarter of 2005. However, in 2006's third quarter, Gateway was helped by an $8.2 million net tax benefit, which means absent this, Gateway's profits fell.
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