EXCLUSIVE - NEC FlexPower Server

NEC delivers a blade server solution to SMBs and shows that this technology doesn’t need an enterprise price tag.

IT Pro Verdict

The FlexPower Server brings blade servers to the masses as it offers a well built, high density processing package at a reasonable price. The virtual storage mapping feature is quite unique and it offers a lot of flexibility. Fault tolerance is also particularly good, there’s plenty of room to expand and the remote management tools make light work of deployment.

Blade servers are a great way of consolidating IT services onto a single platform but most solutions have traditionally commanded premium prices putting them way beyond the means of most SMBs. NEC aims to redress this imbalance as its latest FlexPower Server delivers an impressive range of features but at a very affordable price.

Co-developed with Intel, the FlexPower Server is offered as a cost-effective alternative for businesses that are looking to purchase up to three servers over the coming year. It aims to offer far better value, but also adds solid upgrade and expansion paths, quality fault tolerance and some very interesting storage possibilities. This 6U chassis accepts up to six server blades, or compute modules, and has enough room for fourteen hot-swap small form factor, (SFF) hard disks, which can placed into zones and assigned to selected modules.

The compute modules has been designed specifically for this system and are all based on Intel's PAL5000 platform so are able to support dual- and quad-core Xeon processors. The price for the review system includes a pair of modules each kitted out with a 2GHz Xeon E5405 processor, teamed up with 4GB of FB-DIMM memory, which can be expanded up to 32GB. The blades also have a pair of embedded Gigabit ports and the network count can be expanded to four with an optional dual-port mezzanine card.

The storage scenario comprises two drive bays at the front each offering seven hot-swap slots for low power SAS and SATA SFF hard disks. The bays are routed through internally to the chassis midplane and link up with a storage controller blade at the rear. This has an embedded LSI SAS chip, which supports a fine range of array types including dual-drive redundant RAID-6. Selected drives are placed into storage pools from which you create multiple virtual volumes each configured with their own RAID array type.

Virtual drives are assigned to compute modules, which see them as local storage so you're effectively creating a SAN within the chassis. This offers good fault tolerance as if one compute module fails you simply reassign its virtual drive to another standby module and boot it up where it continues to provide the same services. You can also expand storage capacity as the controller has an extra SAS port for connecting external drive arrays and adding a second controller brings active/active failover into play.

The module's network ports are routed through to Ethernet switch blades at the rear and the review system came with one 10-port Gigabit module. These only support L2 switching but you can add another switch blade, which handles the second network port on each module so you can implement network failover as well. You get one management I/O module as standard, which has a dedicated network port and redundancy is supported by adding a second module.

Dave Mitchell

Dave is an IT consultant and freelance journalist specialising in hands-on reviews of computer networking products covering all market sectors from small businesses to enterprises. Founder of Binary Testing Ltd – the UK’s premier independent network testing laboratory - Dave has over 45 years of experience in the IT industry.

Dave has produced many thousands of in-depth business networking product reviews from his lab which have been reproduced globally. Writing for ITPro and its sister title, PC Pro, he covers all areas of business IT infrastructure, including servers, storage, network security, data protection, cloud, infrastructure and services.