HPE Gen 10 servers offer built-in security and custom Intel Xeon SKUs

 

HPE Gen 10 servers

HPE is aiming to widen its appeal to enterprise customers with its Gen 10 wave of servers based on Intel’s latest Xeon processors, adding security into the hardware to combat security threats, more predictable performance in turbo mode, and new payment options for mid-size firms.

Announced at HPE Discover in Las Vegas, the 10th generation of HPE’s x86 server systems is based on Intel’s Xeon Processor Scalable family, announced by the chipmaker last month. These will be rolled out across the breadth of its portfolio, according to HPE, including the ProLiant, Synergy, Apollo, Superdome and Cloudline families.

HPE said that the new systems have been designed to address three key areas of concern for organisations; agility, security and economic control.

“When we were trying to think a few years back about building our next generation of compute, we thought, how can we have the best possible agility on-prem? How can we have security that is unmatched in the industry? What can we do so that customers can decide how to manage best control their economies of scale, the way to spend their money, and how they scale in the future?” said Alain Andreoli, senior vice president for HPE’s Data Center Infrastructure Group.

HPE iLO management chipHPE’s new “silicon root of trust” security capability is built into a custom chip fitted to the system board and works with the integrated lights-out (iLO) management controller in each HPE server. This enables it to protect the integrity of the system firmware right from its point of manufacture all the way through to operational deployment, what HPE dubs the Secure Compute Lifecycle.

Uniquely, according to HPE chief technology officer Mark Potter, the silicon root of trust can also recover the system back to a previous authenticated state, rather than just preventing it from booting up if it detects that the firmware does not match the correct digital fingerprint.

“We feel it is very important to keep the system up and running, so we built an automatic recovery capability right into our secure system,” he said.

The new iLO also includes the ability to automate maintenance upgrades for servers with support for scheduling and rollback, simplifying operations management in data centres where HPE systems are being operated at any kind of scale.

Addressing the agility question is the latest version 3.1 of HPE’s OneView unified infrastructure management tool, which provides HPE systems with new composable storage capabilities and support to help customers to deploy key applications and infrastructure software including the Mesosphere containers platform.

“We have made OneView now template driven so that these key applications can be moved and migrated and run automatically, and we have also integrated Mesosphere as one of the templates in OneView,” said Andreoli.

HPE also disclosed it is using custom SKUs of Intel’s Skylake-based Xeon Processor Scalable family, in order to deliver greater performance for customers when using turbo mode. This is implemented as three features collectively called Intelligent System Tuning, to be available on selected ProLiant Gen 10 servers.

“We’ve worked very closely on Intel on how do we take better advantage of the ability to run turbo mode, which is based on workload and environment, how do we speed the processor up, and so we uniquely have the ability to run in turbo mode with these special SKUs,” said Potter.

Intel Xeon Processor ScalableCore Boosting offers the ability to dynamically increase the turbo frequency, while Jitter Smoothing makes for more consistent performance when switching core speeds. Workload Matching provides templates to optimise the processor for specific workloads.

“One of the drawbacks of turbo mode is this notion that you’re going to go into turbo mode and change frequency, and every time you make these big changes in clock frequency because of the dynamic of the workload, you can create delays or latency. So we have a patent on how to smooth this out and keep a consistent deterministic behaviour for the application, but run it at the fastest level of performance,” Potter explained.

This capability could be important for industry sectors such as financial trading, where predictable deterministic performance is important.

“Every transaction has to behave the same, so jitter smoothing is key for that segment,” he added.

The Gen 10 systems also feature Scalable Persistent Memory, an extension of HPE’s existing persistent memory technology that combines DRAM with flash chips to make a non-volatile DIMM (NVDIMM). HPE gave away few details other than saying this will now be available at “terabyte scale” for all ProLiant systems.

Meanwhile, HPE is offering new purchasing options that bring the benefits of flexible purchasing to a wider range of customers. Flexible Capacity, which has been available for several years, offers enterprises a pay-as-you-go option based on the compute capacity they use.

The new Capacity Care Services are available for Gen 10 systems and aimed at mid-size customers, offering them usage tracking reports with a quarterly consultation to assess and manage their compute capacity as necessary. This will help customers save money by eliminating overprovisioning of capacity, HPE said.

 

Some thoughts on Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and its DeX docking cradle

Samsung’s newest Galaxy smartphone range was launched to great fanfare last week, but came with an unexpected surprise. No, not an exploding battery, but a docking cradle that turns it into a desktop computer.

The latest line-up of Samsung’s flagship handset comprises two models, the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+, that are everything you would expect from the leading smartphone vendor. They offer a choice of display size – 5.8in and 6.2in – multi-core processors, support for the latest high-speed networks, and the Android 7.0 Nougat operating system.

Owners of the new devices can also pick up an unusual optional extra for their Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S8+, in the shape of the DeX. This looks rather like a fancy black ashtray, but turns out to be a docking cradle that comes with an Ethernet port, HDMI video output and full-size USB 2.0 and USB Type C ports.

As well as charging the phone, the DeX lets you connect up to a desktop monitor, keyboard and mouse, and presumably also to a LAN using the Ethernet port, effectively turning your phone into a desktop computer. When plugged in like this, the user interface switches to a desktop-style user interface to make use of the larger display.

Samsung Galaxy S8 and DeX desktop cradle

This is an interesting concept, and one that has been mooted before. The comparison many in the tech industry are making is to the Continuum feature of Windows 10, which is intended to offer a similar large-screen experience for users of phones running Windows 10, when connected to a monitor. But the Windows Phone platform is essentially going nowhere, and many mobile watchers have pretty much written it off as dead.

However, it is also a feature that Ubuntu firm Canonical touted for its proposed Edge “superphone” back in 2013. This was to have been a high-spec smartphone running Ubuntu Linux, which would switch between a mobile user interface and a full Linux desktop shell, depending on whether it was docked or not. Sadly, the Edge never met its crowdfunding target on Indiegogo, and so did not go into production.

Samsung’s implementation of the concept could potentially attract interest from professional users because of the fact that key apps such as Microsoft’s Office Mobile suite are available for Android, and someone whose role mostly involves document work in Microsoft Office could conceivably run this on a Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S8+ connected to a monitor, in place of a desktop computer.

Another potential use case is not as a PC per se, but as a thin client for accessing virtual desktop (VDI) sessions. Here, the user would have access to a full-blown Windows desktop running full Windows apps, with the docked Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S8+ serving as a terminal. Both Citrix and VMware offer Android versions of their VDI client software, which Dell Wyse used to deliver a pocket-sized thin client in the shape of the Cloud Connect device several years back.

Citrix also showed off its receiver client running on a smartphone connected to a monitor screen as far back as 2010, although this required a handset with an HDMI output to function, and few had this.

Although Samsung seems to have made a splash with DeX at the Galaxy S8 launch, is there actually much call for this usage model? While the ability to turn your smartphone into a desktop client system is a neat trick, who would actually use such a system?

Most mobile professionals currently use a laptop, and plug that into a desktop display when they are in the office. The laptop has a decent sized screen that you can take out on the road with you, while with the Samsung DeX, you leave your big screen and keyboard behind in the office when you go roaming.

Samsung DeX desktop cradle

While it is conceivable that there may be some mobile worker roles in which a big screen is needed only in the office, and a smartphone is sufficient while out on the road, these would seem to be a bit of a niche. Few people would suggest that a smartphone with its small screen and lack of a physical keyboard would be suitable for intensive work – they tend to be used for checking emails or looking up information.

Then there is the fact that the suggested price of the DeX docking cradle – $149.99 in the US – is not much lower than many existing thin client terminals from established vendors in this market such as HP and Dell Wyse, so anyone choosing to equip their staff with a Galaxy device and a DeX to use as a VDI client would not really be saving much.

In addition, the lifecycle of a smartphone tends to be much shorter than that of a corporate device like a thin client terminal. Users tend to upgrade their phones every couple of years, whereas thin clients are often good for up to seven years of use.

Another potential pitfall is that you may invest in a bunch of Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S8+ handsets and DeX cradles, only to find that Samsung may no longer support DeX with any successor generation of Galaxy devices.

While Samsung is to be applauded for exploring a novel use of smartphones with the DeX hardware, it may find that the main market for this will be found among consumers or tech enthusiasts rather than business customers.

Windows Server on ARM: what does it mean?

Qualcomm Centriq ARM server

The demonstration of a version of Windows Server running on ARM-based servers came as a shock to many, especially as this is something that Microsoft has expressly ruled out in the past. But look closely and there is no suggestion as yet that this will lead to commercial availability of such products.

This first public demonstration of Windows Server running on ARM-based systems came at the Open Compute Project (OCP) Summit 2017 in Santa Clara. It was conducted by chipmaker Qualcomm, using its Centriq 2400 platform that boasts up to 48 cores based on ARM’s 64-bit ARMv8 architecture.

Microsoft is also working with at least one other chipmaker, Cavium, which trumpeted its own involvement in a statement saying it was “collaborating with Microsoft on evaluating and enabling a variety of cloud workloads running on Cavium’s flagship ThunderX2 ARMv8-A Data Center processor for the Microsoft Azure cloud platform”.

The key phrase here is “for the Microsoft Azure cloud platform”. This version of Windows Server, and the systems it is running on, seem to be part of an evaluation by Microsoft to see how well ARM-based servers can run some of its cloud services operated from its network of data centres.

ARM has been taking aim at the server market for at least the past five years, at least as far back as the launch of its 64-bit ARMv8 architecture. The proposition is that ARM cores are less complex and consume less energy than rival architectures, such as Intel’s x86 and IBM’s Power processors.

[For more on this, see my article on IDG Connect: No ARM in a bit of server market competition]

However, expert opinion has so far been that the economics of this would only really make sense for hyper-scale environments – typically meaning the large cloud service and internet companies such as Google, Facebook, AWS, and Microsoft, which operate tens of thousands or even millions of server nodes. These are the companies for whose requirements the OCP was started in the first place.

In a post on Microsoft’s Azure blog, Distinguished Engineer Leendert van Doorn confirmed that the ARM servers are currently for Microsoft’s internal use only:

“We have been working closely with multiple ARM server suppliers, including Qualcomm and Cavium, to optimize their silicon for our use. We have been running evaluations side by side with our production workloads and what we see is quite compelling.”

What this may mean is that Microsoft could be planning to migrate some of its cloud services over to ARM-based infrastructure at some point in the future. How worried should Intel be about this move?

The reality is that x86 systems are not going to go away, for the simple reason that the virtual machine workloads that Microsoft customers have hosted on Azure require an x86 server to run on: pretty much every enterprise in the world is run on x86 servers, and these customers expect any public cloud infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) to do the same for compatibility reasons.

Again, Microsoft confirms this in the blog:

“One of the biggest hurdles to enable ARM servers is the software. Rather than trying to port every one of our many software components, we looked at where ARM servers are applicable and where they provide value to us. We found that they provide the most value for our cloud services, specifically our internal cloud applications such as search and indexing, storage, databases, big data and machine learning.”

“To enable these cloud services, we’ve ported a version of Windows Server, for our internal use only, to run on ARM architecture. We have ported language runtime systems and middleware components, and we have ported and evaluated applications, often running these workloads side-by-side with production workloads.”

So, don’t expect to see ARM-based Windows Servers anywhere except in hyper-scale cloud data centres for now. Of course, where Microsoft leads, others may follow, but the huge installed base of Intel-based servers out there means that the average company is not going to be buying ARM servers anytime soon.

Raspberry Pi Zero gets wireless to celebrate the Pi’s fifth birthday

The Raspberry Pi is officially five years old today, and the folks behind the low-cost single-board computer are celebrating with the release of a new model, which brings wireless connectivity to the smallest form factor Pi model on the market.

Known as the Raspberry Pi Zero W, the new model keeps the same dimensions as the existing Raspberry Pi Zero design, but adds in the wireless functionality (802.11 b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1) that was introduced with the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B a year ago.

Raspberry Pi Zero W

Also unveiled today is a new injection-moulded case designed to snugly fit either the new Pi Zero or the existing model, and which comes which a choice of three interchangeable lids; one with a cut-out for the camera module accessory (the ribbon cable for this is also included), another with a cut-out exposing the 40-pin expansion connector, and the third one with no cut-out.

Pi Zero W case and lids

Pricing for the new Raspberry Pi Zero W is expected to be £9.60 inc VAT in the UK, while the new Pi Zero case is expected to cost somewhere in the region of £5. Both are expected to be available from the usual Pi outlets such as The Pi Hut, Pimoroni and Adafruit.

With wireless capability, the Raspberry Pi Zero W fixes what was the only major drawback of the Pi Zero: no network connectivity. True, you could plug in some kind of USB network adapter, but this would be cumbersome, especially as the Pi Zero has only a micro-USB port and needs an adapter to take standard USB devices.

Pi Zero and Pi Zero W

Top: original Pi Zero
Bottom: Pi Zero W

However, the lack of wireless connectivity has not stopped the Pi Zero from being used for a variety of projects, including build-it-yourself digital camera, when combined with the camera module.

With the addition of built-in WiFi and Bluetooth, the Raspberry Pi Zero W looks certain to find its way into numerous new devices, especially projects aimed at the Internet of Things (IoT), given the device’s small size. The wireless support means the new Pi Zero can connect to other devices or to the internet via a WiFi connection.

In fact, given the small size of the device – 65mm long by 30mm wide – we were at a loss to work out where the antenna is on the Raspberry Pi Zero W. Locating the actual wireless chip is relatively easy, as it is a small silvery package, as seen on the Raspberry Pi 3.

However, the Raspberry Pi 3 also had a small surface-mounted antenna, of which there is no sign on the Pi Zero W. It turns out that the new model has an antenna actually built into the circuit board, located between the miniature HDMI and USB connectors (see image below).

Pi Zero W antenna

This piece of high-tech wizardry comes from a Swedish firm called ProAnt, which specialises in antenna design, and is alluded to by text on the rear of the new Pi that says “antenna technology licensed from ProAnt”.

Here is the hardware specifications for the new Raspberry Pi Zero W, as detailed by the folks at Raspberry Pi.

– 1GHz, Single-core CPU

– 512MB RAM

– Mini HDMI and USB On-The-Go ports

– Micro USB power

– HAT-compatible 40-pin header

– Composite video and reset headers

– CSI camera connector

– 802.11n wireless LAN

– Bluetooth 4.0

These specifications are essentially the same as for the original Pi Zero, save for the addition of wireless, meaning that the new model has a less powerful processor than the Pi 3, but still more powerful than the original Raspberry Pi launched five years ago.

Satellite broadband: the unloved cousin of internet connectivity

SatelliteSatellite broadband has been around for many years now, and holds out the promise of internet access for users located pretty much anywhere in the UK that happens to be above ground. So why is this never mentioned when the issue of universal broadband access is raised?

Access to broadband internet is still an issue for many people in the UK, especially those living in remote or rural areas. The problem is that ADSL broadband delivered via a telephone line is limited by the distance to the telephone exchange; the further away you are, the more the signal quality becomes degraded.

This can be addressed in several ways, such as by using a fibre optic connection rather than the telephone line, but the latter can be costly to roll out, so providers like BT have focused first on areas where there are large numbers of subscribers, and may be reluctant to expand out to areas where there are few people to help them recoup the investment in infrastructure.

This can be frustrating for anybody in this situation, but especially for business users, for which the internet is increasingly vital for access to information and reaching customers. A recent episode of the BBC magazine programme Countryfile focused on farmers, who complained that vital information for their industry is increasingly delivered over the web, making internet access a necessity.

A common theme in features like this is simply to berate the government for its failure to stump up the money for broadband roll-out to rural areas. Few mention that such customers could be served by satellite broadband, at least until their area is served by an acceptable terrestrial broadband service.

Satellite broadband does what its name suggests: it delivers internet access via a two-way connection to a satellite in a geostationary orbit above the Earth. This is different from satellite TV, where a satellite simply broadcasts a television signal to everyone with a receiver within the satellite’s ground area footprint (Satellite TV companies such as Sky that also offer internet access provide this service via a telephone line).

To receive satellite broadband, a customer will require a satellite dish to be installed somewhere outside their premises. This is connected to a satellite modem, the equivalent of a broadband modem or router that you will see in a home with a typical broadband service.

So, the big advantage of satellite broadband is that you can access it pretty much anywhere. But what about disadvantages? Firstly, customers will have to stump up for an installation fee to have an engineer visit their premises, fit the satellite dish and orient it towards the satellite that delivers the service, as well as install the satellite modem. This typically starts at around £100 or so, but can be several hundred.

Secondly, potential customers should be aware that satellite internet access is subject to much longer latency than a terrestrial broadband connection. Latency is basically the “round trip” time taken for a signal from your computer to reach its destination and a response to come back.

Satellite broadband has this problem because data has to be transmitted from your computer up to the satellite in geostationary orbit, then back down again to the service provider’s ground station, from where it is routed onto the wider internet. The response has to return using the same route, and all of this adds delay.

For many applications such as browsing the web or downloading files, this latency is not really noticeable. Where it can become an issue is with videoconferencing or internet telephony, when users may notice a lag in the connection, and if you tried to play online action games, for example.

Another problem that satellite broadband customers may experience is that the signal quality can be affected by the weather conditions, especially rain or snow.

In terms of speed, most of the satellite internet providers can offer download speeds of up to 20Mbps, and upload speeds of 1Mbps up to about 6Mbps. The packages on offer from the providers vary, often based as much on the amount of data you are allowed to download each month as on the actual speed of the service, with some starting at just £10 per month.

What this all means is that satellite broadband is not for everyone, but if you do live in a remote or rural location and there are few other options, it is worth evaluating, rather than waiting for BT to get around to upgrading the infrastructure in your area.

Some satellite broadband providers covering the UK:

Tooway

Avonline

Europasat

Internet of Things or the Internet of hyberbole?

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (or IoT, if you prefer) is one of those nebulous concepts that covers a multitude of things, rather like “cloud computing”, and thus gets hyped up and misappropriated, with vendors, marketers and journalists alike attaching the term to almost everything in order to attract attention to an otherwise me-too product or dull article.

Perhaps it is because there are so many wide-ranging use cases for the Internet of Things that it gets everybody confused. However, as I have opined before on more than one occasion in the past, the Internet of Things is basically just the internet, but with a whole lot more devices connected to it than before, and new applications.

The basic premise behind the Internet of Things is that internet access is now almost ubiquitous (at least for most people in the developed world), and reaches to almost anywhere. Instead of just using the internet so that millions of people can check their status updates on social media, why not also use it to connect up things that it would be handy to get data from, like weather stations, or traffic flow sensors, or anything that might not typically be connected previously?

In the past, if you wanted to collect temperature and rainfall data from a bunch of weather stations dotted around the landscape, you might have had to connect them up using some proprietary wireless system, or had a telephone line wired to each one so you could use a dial-up modem.

Nowadays, you can (relatively) easily connect anything to the internet, whether via WiFi, over a cellular network, and take advantage of ready-made protocol stacks for communicating with your central systems, making it cheaper and easier to build such a solution.

In indoor environments, it is typically even easier to connect things up, especially in offices where there is often WiFi signal coverage almost everywhere, or an Ethernet port within a few metres.

There are two other key factors that have enabled the recent uptake of projects and solutions that we can label as Internet of Things, and these are the increasing miniaturisation of compute hardware, and the growth of analytics tools that can sift through captured data and glean some useful insight from it.

Most people have likely heard of the Raspberry Pi, the credit-card sized device that was initially designed to help children to learn developer skills. This device and others like it now pack in a considerable amount of compute power at a low cost.

Meanwhile, collecting telemetry data from internet-enabled devices and hardware enables analysis to look for patterns, such as those indicating a potential fault is developing in machinery, for example.

However, the Internet of Things is also leading to a whole load of ill-considered, mostly consumer-focused products like internet-connected toasters, connected lightbulbs, and that evergreen cliché, the connected fridge.

Many of these products seem to offer little real advantage for the massive inconvenience they bring, by which I mean the need to configure and setup the connected wotsit and keep it up to date with the inevitable stream of patches and bugfixes that any self-respecting “smart” device seems to require these days.

Then there is the never-ending stream of hyperbole about the Internet of Things, such as the recent claim by one technology publication that every single thing you buy in future will be connected, and that buyers will have no choice in the matter. The publication in question even quoted a respected security researcher as implying it.

This is ridiculous for several reasons. Embedded compute hardware is cheap, but not so cheap that would cost less than the same device without it. And not least of all, there is ludicrous notion that users would have no choice about the device connecting itself to the internet and reporting on what kind of toast they eat, and so on.

How this is supposed to happen when even expert users still have problems getting some devices to connect to the internet is glossed over. Is it supposed to read your mind to get the WiFi password to your network?

Sadly, it looks like we can all expect more of this in future. The ‘things’ in the Internet of Things enables almost any device or application to be cast as a magic new gizmo that is going to make all of our lives better.

The reality is likely to be more prosaic. The real Internet of Things use cases are more likely to be applications such as building automation, traffic flow monitoring, and the aforementioned connecting of sensors to industrial equipment to monitor performance and allow for predictive maintenance rather than waiting for faults to cause downtime before addressing them.