Dell debuts its first blade server

Consolidation was the theme of the day at a Dell Computer Corp. press conference held Wednesday in New York, which focused on unveiling several new enterprise tools and servers – including the company’s first blade server.

The PowerEdge 1655MC is a 3U enclosure that can accommodate up to six blades, each with up to two Intel Pentium III and up to 2G bytes of memory. The unit is Dell’s first entry in its new modular server line.

Dell trails Hewlett-Packard Co. and Compaq Computer Corp. into the market for blade servers, which are thin, high-density servers that consist of little more than microprocessors and memory.

The PowerEdge 1655MC isn’t quite as sleek as rival products. The design allows 84 blades to fit into a standard rack while other vendors, notably Compaq, offer blades thin enough to fit hundreds into a single rack.

But Dell maintains that super-slim hardware requires performance trade-offs its customers aren’t willing to make.

“(Other vendors) have focused on customers willing to sacrifice performance for space and power reasons. We don’t see much of that,” said Randy Groves, vice president of Dell’s enterprise systems group.

Blades are merely a stepping stone toward Dell’s real modular computing goal of “brick” servers that will feature multiple servers per chassis and allow customers to assemble blocks of components such as storage and memory, executives said. By sharing power and cooling hardware and decreasing the space required for housing servers, bricks will decrease customers’ data centre costs, Dell executives said.

Flexible, easily managed, standards-based systems are what customers are demanding, according to Dell executives.

In the mid-1990s, the server market was dominated by “tower and pedestal, dispersed systems,” Groves said. Then IT departments began collecting those systems into data centres and migrating to rack-based organizational systems. Now, customers are looking to further consolidate their server farms, a trend that prompted Dell to create its modular computing push, he said.

Groves also pointed to what he forecast will be a substantial migration of customers abandoning Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Solaris system to move to an Intel architecture.

“We think that will be a major change going forward this year,” he said. Cost savings will catalyze the migration, he said because companies “can’t ignore the economic advantages” of running Linux or Microsoft Windows instead of Solaris. Dell hopes to win those migrating customers with its new modular offers and several high-end additions to its existing portfolios.

Dell is adding two new servers, the PowerEdge 6600 and PowerEdge 6650, to its PowerEdge line of rack-optimized servers. More than 50 percent of Dell’s server shipments are now of models intended for rack mounting, said Dell President and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Rollins.

Both the 6600 and 6500 support up to four Intel Xeon processors. The 7U PowerEdge 6600 includes 12 internal hard drives, expandable to 876G bytes, while the 4U PowerEdge 6650 includes five hard drives with a maximum storage capacity of 356G bytes. Both are intended for resource-intensive applications such as data warehousing, e-mail, transaction processing and enterprise resource planning systems, executives said.

Dell also announced Wednesday it is partnering with Microsoft Corp. on development of InfiniBand technology, an emerging architecture for data flow between processors and I/O devices intended to expand bandwidth and speed data throughput.

The partnership signals Dell’s addition to the list of vendors championing InfiniBand. Dell will work with Microsoft to ensure that its hardware integrates well with Microsoft’s. InfiniBand technology will be featured in Dell’s forthcoming PowerEdge brick servers, executives said.

Dell expects to begin rolling out its brick servers toward the end of 2002, followed by a full deployment of the technology in 2003.

The PowerEdge 1655MC blade server will be available worldwide in the third quarter, executives said. A price for the product has not yet been announced.

The PowerEdge 6600 will be available in May, with a price starting at US$5,499. The PowerEdge 6650, also scheduled for a May release, will carry a US$5,199 price tag. Both servers will support Microsoft Windows 2000 Server, Microsoft Windows 2000 Advanced Server and Red Hat Linux.

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