Lenovo ThinkSystem ST550 review: A towering achievement

This server offers SMEs the perfect blend of performance, features and value

Price
£1,809
  • Excellent remote management features; Great performance; Highly affordable
  • Limited to 125W TDP

Since introducing its ThinkSystem business portfolio in 2017, Lenovo has become a force to be reckoned with in the server market. The ThinkSystem ST550 is the latest to join this burgeoning family and will be of interest to SMEs that want a Xeon Scalable tower server capable of turning its hand to a wide range of workloads such as messaging and workgroup apps, as well as file, print and web serving.

The ST550 delivers a great hardware package for the price, with an 8-core 2.1GHz Xeon Silver 4110 in the driving seat and room for a second CPU when you want to boost your parallel processing. The chassis does have a comparatively low 125W TDP limitation but this still allows it to support all Bronze, Silver and Gold 5100 CPUs plus Gold 6100 models up to 20 cores.

The price gets you 16GB of TruDDR4 RDIMM memory and the server's twelve DIMM slots allow this to be boosted to 364GB in dual CPU configurations. Those with deeper pockets can use more expensive 64GB LRDIMM modules to double capacity to 768GB.

The server is reassuringly solid and offers a very flexible storage arrangement, with support for 8, 16 and 20 SFF drives or up to 8 LFF disks. Our system was supplied with one 8-bay hot-swap SFF backplane with room for a second above.

To get the maximum SFF drive count, Lenovo offers optional dual-drive cages which occupy the two 5.25in expansion bays. Up to four super-fast PCI-e NVMe SSDs can be installed by replacing the standard SFF cage with Lenovo's AnyBay module, which uses an NVMe switch adapter fitted in expansion slot 2 to connect them directly to the first CPU.

RAID options start with the embedded Intel RSTe (rapid storage technology enterprise) controller which supports up to 8 SATA drives plus striped, mirrored and RAID5 arrays. Our system promises even better value, as it includes Lenovo's RAID 930-8i card which adds 12Gbps SAS3 plus RAID6 support and has 2GB of battery-protected cache.

The 930-8i provides eight SAS3 ports so it can manage the existing SFF backplane but if you add another you'll need a second RAID card. For increased future-proofing, it would be worth specifying the 16-port or 24-port versions of the RAID 930 card so it's ready to go when you add more backplanes.

The server presents a very tidy interior with easy access to all components for upgrades and general maintenance. Dual Gigabit ports are built in and the six available PCI-Express slots means there's plenty of room for 10-Gigabit adapters when you feel the need for more networking speed.

Lenovo's XClarity Controller (XCC) is a star player and puts the ST550 up there alongside HPE's iLO5 and Dell's iDRAC9 for remote management features. The XCC remote web interface delivers a wealth of information about system health and critical components and presents coloured graphs showing utilization and system wide power usage.

We recommend upgrading the Standard XCC with an Advanced license. This enables power management graphs, remote control, virtual media services and OS provisioning, and costs a mere 23.

We loved the XClarity Provisioning Manager as it guided us through configuring a RAID array using the pair of 300GB SAS3 hard disks and installing Windows Server 2016 from a USB image in less than 30 minutes. Other valuable features of the XCC include automated firmware update tools and options to set access security.

SMEs nervous about moving to the latest Xeon Scalable processing can rest easy with Lenovo's ThinkSystem ST550. This sturdy tower server offers everything they need to get started and combines this with versatile storage features and extreme value.

Verdict

SMEs nervous about moving to the latest Xeon Scalable processing can rest easy with Lenovo’s ThinkSystem ST550. This sturdy tower server offers everything they need to get started and combines this with versatile storage features and extreme value.

Tower chassis 2.1GHz Xeon Silver 4110 CPU (max 2) 16GB 2,400MHz DDR4 (max 768GB) ThinkSystem RAID 930-8i/2GB cache/BBU Supports RAID0, 1, 5, 6, 10, 50, 60 2 x 300GB 10K SAS3 SFF hard disks (max 20) 2 x Gigabit 6 x PCI-E 3 750W hot-plug PSU (max 2) XClarity Advanced with Gigabit 177 x 670 x 440mm (WDH) Max 125W TDP 3yr on-site NBD warranty

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