Inside an SGI server

The exterior and interior of the SGI Rackable C1001-TY2 server are examined and discussed in this Server Month video.

“The SGI Rackable C1001-TY2 series boasts a half-depth form factor that effectively doubles the mounting density compared to other 1U servers. It also supports hot-aisle containment, but there are a few compromises to consider as well,” said Colin Steele, senior site editor.

Take a look at the notable features and capabilities for the system’s design, power supply, cooling components and more. You’ll also see how the box’s Aptio setup utility is laid out and get a walk-through of the processor and memory configurations, server management settings and boot options.

Check out the rest of our Server Month tips and videos.

Read the full text transcript from this video below. Please note the full transcript is for reference only and may include limited inaccuracies. To suggest a transcript correction, contact     

Inside an SGI server

Colin Steele: Hi, I'm Senior Site Editor Colin Steele.

Stephen Bigelow: I'm Stephen Bigelow, Senior Technology Editor.

Carl Brooks: I'm Carl Brooks, Senior Technology Writer.

Colin Steele: Let's take a look at this 1U server. The SGI Rackable C1001 TY2 series boasts a half-depth form factor that effectively doubles the mounting density compared to other 1U servers. It also supports hot-aisle containment. But there are a few compromises to consider as well. Let's take a closer look at the SGI Rackable system. Stephen, can you start off by showing us the front panel of the system?

Stephen Bigelow: No problem, Colin. One of the first things about the C1001 TY2 is that it's a half-depth chassis, which means it's only about half as long as other 1U servers in this group. As a consequence of that, they're designed to be mounted back to back, which means it's very difficult to get to the rear of the unit. What SGI Rackable has done in this particular model is put all of the ports on the front of the unit, which makes it very convenient. Only the power is connected in the rear of the system. So all a technician needs to do in order to get this unit up and running is connect their keyboard, video, and mouse right up to the front of the unit, and it makes it very straightforward to install the unit, set it up, or change its configuration at any point in the future.

As we go through the front panel from side to side, what we start with is your remote management port here, followed by a series of indicators for system ID, hard drive activity, and power, along with your power reset button. In the middle of the unit, we have your video port, we have two one gigabyte Ethernet ports, we have four USB ports, and the compromise that Colin spoke of earlier during his introduction was expansion room for hard drives. One of the issues to consider with this particular system is that there's only room for two 2.5 inch hard drives.

Like similar systems, they are mounted on hot-swappable trays, so you only need to pull the tray out and you can see a standard sized 2.5 inch hard drives. In this case, these are Savio 15krpm drives. To replace the drive, just slide it back into the unit, and it secures into place.

Carl Brooks: So, the back of this thing. As Steve said, this is designed to be installed back to back with another one of the same model, and big racks. This is really dense configuration. There's nothing in the back because there wouldn't be enough room to put it in the back. All the fans are also in the back, so they're going to suck the air straight from the front all the way out the back. One thing we did notice here is that the power supply, which is not redundant and not removable, has an on and an off switch, which is a little weird seeing as it will be mounted about this far away from another one.

However, what that tells us is that the power supply in there is actually probably commodity and fairly easy to source, so that tells you where the server stands on sort of the fancy pants spectrum. There's even a blank here cut out where you could probably put in another one if you really felt like it. You could ration yourself if you needed to. You probably don't. That's probably all there is to say about the back of this. Notice, nothing on the back, you're not intended to touch it, except for maybe the power switch.

Colin Steele: Now that we've checked out the exterior of the unit, it's time to open it up and take a look inside. Carl, can you take us through that process?

Carl Brooks: This one has just a couple of screws in the back. And we're going to lift it from the front. Nice and plain.

Colin Steele: So inside of the SGI unit, you can see that it's actually pretty tight, all things considered. The chassis form factor is small as we had said; it's a half depth server, so a few of the areas have been reduced accordingly. The first thing we see is that there are actually fewer fans in the SGI than there are in other servers. There are six fans here, where they're often doubled up and more fans available in some of the other units. In the end it doesn't really affect the cooling all that much because it's a smaller volume that needs to be cooled, but it is something that attracted our attention. The unit is based on Intel's 5500 chipset, and it does support two Intel 5500 or 5600 series processors. Of course, depending on your processor choice, that gives us up to twelve cores for busy workloads. There's also space for numerous DDR3 DIMMs. This unit will support up to 8GB DIMMs. So the maximum amount of RAM that can be installed on this unit is 96GB, and that's somewhat less than other units that we've seen in this collection of videos. Carl, what do you see?

Carl Brooks: A couple of things jump out. First of all, a lot of the stuff in here, like you said, is made for space. This is really small. A lot of stuff in here is pretty stock. This form factor, for instance, is a small server motherboard factor. These heat sinks are Intel standard heat sinks, you can replace these right off the shelf. They're also fairly short. They're half height. There's not a great amount of cooling here. The SATA connectors that go on board down here, this is on board RAID; however, this is just a standard Intel on board RAID riser card, but it's just popped right on there, nothing fancy holding it on.

The onboard hard drive connectors here, six SATA connectors on the other side, connectors back here down the other side, various BUSes. Again, very small. Notice also the fans that Steve pointed out are at the back of the server, not at the front of the server. They're not sucking air from the cool part of the data center and blowing it out the back, they're sucking air and directing it directly out. You're going to put these back to back, so you have two hot servers blowing hot air at the same space, hopefully it will rise. Otherwise, fairly standard.

This is almost like working in a small, very flat PC rather than a really humongous enterprise-class server, although this is an enterprise-class machine. Very neat, spare design. Cabling doesn't get in its way. This is probably going to be pretty easy to work on. In fact, I would give you about five to seven minutes before you could just have this whole motherboard out and replaced with another one if you wanted to. This is a standard form factor, easy to work in commodity. Very good for the tinkerer, I would say.

Colin Steele: To see what all these components do, of course, we need to turn this thing on. What's involved there?

Stephen Bigelow: It's really just a matter of connecting the display, the keyboard and the mouse. Most one-use servers use redundant power supplies, and two power cords are needed. But this configuration of the TY2 uses only a single power supply. It's something very important to keep in mind if you're concerned about redundancy. As you connect the power supply from the rear, remember to turn on the master power supply switch on the back panel. Once you press the power button on the front, the unit will begin to post. The TY2 includes a version of CentOS on the local disks, but you can easily boot from a disk image or the LAN. It's the only Linux unit in this group. From there, it's really a matter of installing any applications or virtual machines. Carl?

Carl: Indicator lights on the front, you'll see there are a couple diagnostics there behind the VGA on the board. You don't really need to look at these unless you actually speak robot. They're showing how the system goes through various diagnostic checks. It checks each BUS, checks the memory, checks the CPU function. American Megatrends AMI BIOS, our old friend. So you notice, the fans are a little bit loud on this one compared to some of the other ones. This one actually has very sophisticated and fairly variable fan control that you can set in a variety of different ways.

This is really designed to be part of a cluster. You're supposed to buy, like, ten of these, and they're supposed to all stick next to each other. They're supposed to operate more or less together. As they get hot together, they cool off together. So the fan speed controls on this are pretty sophisticated in those terms. It's really quite capable in that regard. LSI onboard RAID. Aptio setup utility, American Megatrends, Inc., AMI BIOS. We've seen this before, most of us have. Fairly standard stuff here. Processor configuration. QPI links, QPI frequency.

This is interesting because there are some things you can do when you're doing functional computing or supercomputing, if you will, that you might want to be messing with some of the CPU settings to determine how instructions are processed. Enhanced Intel Speedstep technology. This is fun. What this does, is it actually clocks your CPU down if your system's not currently being utilized. Depending on your use, you may want to turn it off or not. You may want to let it do what it does, but it's there. It is turned on by default. If you were using this for scientific computing in a lab or something, you'd probably want to turn that off and see what happens. Processor reporting, hyperthreading, multi-processing. Again, how many? All, one, or two? Virtualization technology.

Notice in this machine by default, the handy doodads from Intel about virtualization hardware acceleration are turned off by default. That's because, again, this is not meant to be used in any sort of standard VMware data center environment. This is meant to be racked up with a whole bunch of others in a cluster environment which are generally fairly specific on how they want to talk to the CPU. Front panel lockout. You can keep people from turning this off. They can pull the power cord out but that just means they're cheating. Server management, this stuff is just the logging, you can turn it on or off here. Resume on AC power, off or on, again, fairly standard options.

System information. LAN configuration, you may want to do this first if you're doing a remote systems configuration or management, you probably can do this afterwards. I honestly don't know if this will actually hunt for boot unless you set it up to do that, so let's look at the boot options. System boot time-out, instant. Boot option one. So the first thing it's going to boot from logical unit number zero, Seagate ST9146, that's the RAID volume that's installed there. You can actually set it to boot from PXE if you want, you can set it to boot from internal EFI shell if you know what you're doing or need to do that. Network device order, you can pick the slot you want it to boot from, so that's nice as well.

Fair amount of options, fairly minimal amount of options compared to some of the other servers we looked at. Memory configuration, you can actually tell that's again a sign that they're thinking about scientific computing. Memory intensive applications, you can actually set this to zero out the memory on demand when you want it to, or sort of automatically police itself and scrub out the memory all the time. Enabled or not enabled, NUMA optimized. If enabled, BIOS will include ACIP enablers that are required for NUMA aware operating systems. If you need to know what that is, you probably do, and you're not going to ask me about it. Storage controllers, fairly straightforward stuff. As we saw when we opened it up, there are expandability ports for SATA.

There's no place to put any other SATA drives on this thing but the ports are on the board if you want it. Serial port, USB, not going to be using these too much. PCI configuration. Disable memory mapping for iOS 64-bit PCI devices to 4gig, a greater address space. This is because of the well-known limitation of 32-bit computing. 4GB of memory is your upper limit. With 64-bit computing, you get more than 4GB; however mix and match 64-bit device and 32-bit CPU and/or operating system, and funny things can happen.

Here's where you can help avoid that. Onboard video, enable, disable, blah, blah, this is all fairly normal. The fun part - systems acoustics and performance configuration. Set throttling mode, auto, OLTT. Open Loop Throttling mode, Closed Loop Throttling mode. Altitude, you can actually set this for performance based on how far above sea level you are. Important? Probably. It's a nice feature, unless the relative humidity and all that stuff. Fan profile, performance or acoustic. Acoustic, we'll keep it quiet, but it will boost the fans no matter what.

Performance will always boost the fans first, but this is actually the lowest level, this is as quiet as they go. Fan PWM offset. This will actually tell you how fast you want the fans to spin at a minimum. So at a minimum, they're going to spin about this fast. You can set this up to 50 or whatever. They'd automatically be that much higher before they spin up. So you can optimize your cooling to a fairly high degree here. That's about it.

So focus on the acoustics and performance with the fans and the cooling. You saw, the fans are in the back, they're not in the front like most of the other servers. Definitely focus on cluster computing, scientific computing, or things that are not your standard business data center, Windows/VMware type environment. Invoking SATA attached SCSI configuration utility, or as we call it, SASCU. I just made that up.

So here we can see this is fairly standard. We can see the adapter, information about where it's installed. Revision, let's select it. Boot support enabled, in the BIOS and the operating system. RAID properties. Create, create, create. Integrated striping, integrated mirrored, integrated mirror array of two disks plus two optional hot spares. Various types of RAID. Again, to be noted, there are only two slots for hard drives on this thing, so you're going to want to choose your options based on that limitation.

Current typology. Direct attached devices, two devices plugged in. There they are, bay one and bay zero, you can see them. Adapter properties, advanced device properties. Again, this is stuff you really don't need to care about, it's just interesting that this configuration is still here, if you wanted to, after all these years. You might want to do this if you're interfacing with some severely weird type of device or very old type of storage, but it's not really necessary. You can set hard drive spin up delay, direct attach max targets of spin up, again stuff you really don't care about but nice to know that it's here if you still need it.

This just tells you a bit about the hard drives. The drives installed here are plain Jane, they're not actually installed on the RAID, they're just connected to the RAID, but it's not really important, it's just how they sent it to us. We are going to be shipping it back to them pretty much the way we got it. So that's pretty much it, that's your SGI server.

Colin Steele: That does it for this 1U server overview. I'm Colin Steele.

Stephen Bigelow: I'm Stephen Bigelow.

Carl Brooks: And I'm Carl Brooks.

Colin Steele: Thanks for watching.

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